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Authors of the Gospels
From: "The Fisherman and the Messiah"
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

The Baker of Capernaum
Now Available
The baker of Capernaum meets the carpenter of Nazareth.

 

Mark (1): Opportunity and Initiative
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

Paul realized he was wrong about the true character of Mark.

First read: Acts 15:35-41, 2 Tim 4:6-11.

When Jesus was crucified, John Mark was a teenager living with his mother, Mary, in Jerusalem. He would have seen Jesus, and because Peter and his mother were acquainted, he most likely met Jesus. He could have been the young man who followed the guards when they arrested Jesus. He only had a linen cloth wrapped around his body. When the guards grabbed him, he left the cloth in their hands and fled nakedly into the night. This event is reported by Mark only (Mk 14:51-52). The concern of this young man is even more remarkable when we read that all the disciples fled, and that even Peter was following from a distance.

If this young man slept at home that night, he would not have known so soon that Jesus was arrested. A good guess would be that he followed Jesus and the disciples to Gethsemane, and that he lurked amongst the trees where the group was resting. Maybe he sensed the concern of his family for the safety of Jesus, and expected that something dreadful was going to happen. His curiosity made him sneak out of the house to do some spying. He probably saw the commotion of the arrest, and followed them to see where they were taking Jesus, in order to inform his mother.

When Peter was freed from prison by the angel he went to the house of Mark's mother where they were praying for his release (Acts 12:12). Some 15 years later, when Paul and Barnabas brought a gift from the church in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem, Mark accompanied them back to Antioch (Acts 12:25). Soon after that he also accompanied them on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:5).

Looking at this setting in which Mark lived, we can say that he was a very fortunate young man. He grew up in a family who played a significant role in the early church; he had contact with Christ Himself; he was friends with the leaders of the church; and he became actively involved in the expansion of the church.

If we reflect on our own opportunities of the past, we may come to the same conclusion: that we were fortunate in many ways - that there were quite a number of positive factors at our disposal, which we could have used to the advantage of ourselves and others.

Then Mark made a little impulsive mistake which Paul blew up out of proportion, and which had a very unfortunate effect on the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. On the first missionary journey Mark decided to turn back halfway. He was an adult then and was entitled to make his own decisions. (He was at least 30 years of age then).

Paul felt he could not count on him, so he refused to take him on his second journey, while Barnabas, Mark's uncle (Col 4:10), wanted to give the young man a second chance. They differed so strongly on this matter that Barnabas and Mark departed in one direction, and Paul and Silas into another. (Acts 15:37-40).

It was on that journey that Paul met Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles. Luke got most of his information for the book from Paul, consequently the rest of the book focused on Paul and not on Barnabas and Mark.

However, references to Mark in Paul's and Peter's letters show that Mark did make a comeback, and that Paul did realize that he was wrong about the true character of Mark. Paul asked the Colossians (4:10) to receive Mark; in his letter to Philemon he called Mark his fellow worker; and in his second letter to Timothy (4:11) he urged him to bring Mark with him to Rome "for he is useful to me for ministry". In his first letter Peter (5:13) called Mark "my son".

The saying: "it's human to err, divine to forgive" became true in Mark's life as well. He made a great comeback: he not only became involved again, but he left a great treasure to the church of all times - the first written record on the life of Jesus. He realized that those who knew Jesus personally were getting old. When they passed on, the church would need their eyewitness reports in writing. So he and Peter sat down and delivered a most valuable document to the church.

DECISION: I will not be kept down by mistakes, I will stand up and proceed.

PRAYER: Merciful Lord, I want to be a Mark in my own way. Help me to overcome my own mistakes, as well as the negative feedback from others. When I stumble, help me to get up, wipe off the dust, and to resume my duties with more determination. Amen.

FOR MEDITATION AND DISCUSSION:

1. Many people with good potential are eliminated early in their lives by unfortunate events which caused physical or emotional injuries. They just could not come over it. What can we do to prevent the permanent loss of this potential for society? How can we help them to stand up, and to develop and use their talents to the full?

2. Can you identify spots in your own life where your potential has been blocked by an unfortunate event? What can you do about it? Maybe you will have to work through some anger (towards others or towards yourself), forgiveness or deflection (giving the bitterness over to God), and emotional healing. To avoid the pitfalls, rather do it with the help of an experienced counselor.

3. Which one of these two pictures of yourself should determine your self-esteem:

a. what you and your friends know about you, or b. What your enemies (or fans) are saying about you? To phrase it differently: which of these two should be of primary importance to you: your "personal self", or your "social self"?

4. Both Paul and Mark "disappeared" from the scene for several years, before they started with their big assignment. With the sudden growth of the Church in Antioch, the Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to help them. He realized he needed help, so he "departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch." (Acts 11:20-26). Shortly after that Mark joined them (Acts 12:25). Then their great work started. Periods in our lives, which may seem dull to us, may be vital preparation for a specific task. Walk faithfully with the Lord, wait for Him, and be ready for His call. We have to merge our agenda with His master-plan.

Mark (2): Time Is Precious
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

The Church needed a written eyewitness report on the life of the Messiah.

First read: Mk 5:1-20, 6:30-37.

If Mark was about fourteen years old when Jesus was crucified (29 AD), He was about 31 when he accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first mission (+ 46 AD). Shortly before Paul's death he asked Mark, through Timothy, to come to Rome (+ 65 AD). Mark was then + 48 years old.

Surely, time was flying. He looked at the aging apostles, and realized that the pioneers would soon be gone, leaving the church without their important eye-witness accounts of the person, deeds and words of Jesus.

As a Jew he was acquainted with the scrolls of Moses, as well as the historical, poetical and prophetical books of the Old Testament. He knew how much Scripture meant to his people. He also knew how easily history and doctrine became distorted when Scripture was neglected (2 Kings 22).

Something had to be done, and as quickly as possible. He was right: he could not even finish his book. According to some manuscripts Mark's book ended abruptly at 16:8 with the women fleeing fearfully from the grave after the angel told them of the resurrection of Jesus. Peter who was telling the story, surely would not have stopped there, unless something serious intervened. Persecution was increasing in Rome at that time. They might have been interrupted by that, or by other unforeseen obstacles such as illness or duties elsewhere.

This urgency concerning available time also characterizes Mark's Gospel. As they were pressed for time in 65 AD, so Jesus experienced a shortage of time. Mark used the word "immediately" repeatedly in his Gospel. He reported that Jesus and the disciples were sometimes so busy that they did not have time to eat (Mk 6:31).

Even when they tried to withdraw for a breather, they were followed and soon surrounded by the crowd again. In these circumstances it is all the more reassuring that Jesus made time to help the distressed individual. They went over to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, to help only one person: the wretched Legion who was tormented by demons.

Peter and Mark did not record many sermons and parables of Jesus. They concentrated on His deeds and miracles. Apart from the time factor, this emphasis could have resulted from the fact that they were writing for Roman Christians. For the Roman mind, deeds and power were the yardstick for success and heroism. By describing the mighty works of Christ, they portrayed Him as the serving King. Furthermore, Peter and Mark were themselves hasty, impulsive, restless people. The characteristics of the authors would have colored their work too.

Mark explained Jewish customs and words to his readers. It confirms that he was writing for non-Jews. Although his book is the shortest of the four Gospels, he many times gave more detail than the other Gospels. For example: he referred to specific reactions and emotions of Jesus and the disciples.

Jesus was angry and grieved (3:5); He marveled because of their unbelief (6:6); He was moved with compassion for the crowd that was like sheep without a shepherd (6:34); with a deep sigh He opened the ears of the deaf man (7:34); in Gethsemane He told the disciples that His soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death (14:34). The disciples feared exceedingly (4:41); they were many times overcome with great amazement (5:42); they were sorrowful when Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him (14:19).

Mark mentioned that Jesus called James and John "Boanerges" ("sons of thunder"), and he recorded that about 2000 pigs drowned in the lake when Legion was healed. It shows Mark was informed by an eye-witness.

Mark's timely recording of the life of Jesus inspired others to do the same, and to build on what he had started. Without his pioneering work, Matthew's Gospel might not have seen the light. (See next Chapter).

We should take courage from this, and put our talents to good use for the kingdom of God. We never know how far-reaching an apparent small contribution might be. The old movie, "It's A Wonderful Life", which is shown on TV before Christmas every year, demonstrates this truth quite strikingly. It is available at video shops.

DECISION: I will do my part to conserve the good of the past for the future.

PRAYER: Dear God, open my eyes to recognize the opportunities to do something meaningful for your kingdom. Inspire me not to postpone, but to act timely and effectively. Give me wisdom to conserve the good from the past while I'm exploring the new. Amen.

FOR MEDITATION AND DISCUSSION:

1. Most nations try to preserve and uphold historic material that tells new generations something about the life-style of earlier generations. At the same time they accept that change is unavoidable, and in this process many natural and spiritual resources that we inherited from our ancestors, are destroyed at an alarming rate. What are your views on preservation and development, with reference to nature, culture and religion?

2. What are the things, knowledge and customs in your family that you would like to preserve for your children and grand children? What about religious values?

3. For centuries the Old and New Testament have been preserved by making hand-written copies that were amazingly precise. When printing was invented, the same precision standards were maintained. Literal and free translations tried to convey the original meaning to the readers. How do you feel about current efforts to print Bibles in which the original meaning is changed intentionally, in order to make the Bible "politically correct" for our time?

4. When we look at the similarities and differences between the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, it is clear that though Matthew was influenced by Mark and Peter, he made substantial contributions of his own (next two Chapters). It emphasizes the importance of getting something down on paper, even when it is not comprehensive. It is a good policy for writing any kind of paper: don't try to be perfect with the first effort - just start writing and let your thoughts take shape. Word-processors make it easy to improve on the first effort later on.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"THE YOKE OF YESHUA"
lays the four gospels side by side
and tells the whole story in chronological order.
(Available at AuthorHouse.com)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Matthew (1): Not The Righteous, But Sinners
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

Matthew brought his past to Jesus, and threw off that heavy burden for good.

First read: Mat 9:9-13.

People don't like taxes, although they know the system is necessary for the maintenance of important services. In the first century, though, the Jews hated tax-collectors for other reasons. They regarded "sinners and tax-collectors" as the scum of the earth. The tax-collectors bought their position from the Romans. Their profit was in the form of a commission which they had to charge from tax-payers additional to the Roman tax. Greed lead to corruption: many of them overcharged the public. They were seen as traitors who served the foreign conqueror, and as money-hungry blood-suckers who robbed even the poor of their income. Because they were rejected by respectable citizens, they sought company with "sinners" who were also rejected for their immoral life-style.

One of these tax-collectors had his office in Capernaum. This Matthew, also known as Levi, saw the sudden increase in people passing his office. He soon learned the reason for this strange activity in the town: the incredible miracles and soul-searching sermons of the new young Rabbi.

He could not gather the courage to show his face amongst the crowds who listened so eagerly to Him, but it was not difficult to update himself on the daily news, because everyone talked enthusiastically about it. Dissatisfaction with his present life, and the scorn associated with it, kindled a yearning in him to hear the Rabbi himself.

It happened sooner and better than he ever could have dreamt. The crowd with the Rabbi amongst them passed his office again, but this time the Rabbi was much closer to him. Jesus stopped, looked at him for a few moments, as if He was reading his mind, and then He only said: "Follow me!" Matthew was in his heart ready and ripe for drastic change: He obeyed immediately. He locked his office and took the day off - for the rest of his life.

Matthew was not a reluctant follower, like Peter in the beginning. He was so overjoyed that he started right away with his own ministry: he brought Jesus into contact with other "sinners and tax-collectors" like himself, who were also longing for a better life. He invited his old and new friends to a dinner in his house. Both sides eagerly accepted the invitation. That contact would not have been in vain. Several hopeless cases would have been converted to a new life.

The religious leaders, who were following the acts and words of the new prophet closely, were abhorred by His unholy mixing with "sinners and tax-collectors". Their attitude gave occasion to one of the famous utterances of Jesus, words which must have been sweet music to Matthew's ears: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." Three times Jesus emphasized the same truth: not the healthy but the sick, not sacrifice but mercy, not the righteous but sinners.

For Matthew this was the heart of the Gospel: the Savior of sinners had come. In the first chapter of his book he reported that the angel told Joseph to name the Child "Jesus" - because He will save His people from sin. Therefore, the forces of darkness mobilized themselves immediately to destroy the Savior: His parents had to flee with Him to Egypt while the children of Bethlehem were massacred. John the Baptist said that He would "gather His wheat" in His barn.

For a person with a past like that of Matthew, the acceptance and forgiveness of Jesus was like food to the starving. Nobody would give him a chance, but Jesus did. When Matthew named the twelve disciples, he added to his name: "the tax-collector" (Mat 10:3). Whenever his guilty conscience would pest him over the past, he could find comfort in the fact that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Only Matthew quoted Isaiah 42 to illustrate the mercy of Christ: a bruised reed He will not break and a smoking flax He will not quench (Matt. 12). In various ways Matthew highlighted the mercy of Jesus. In the Beatitudes He bestowed His blessing on those who are forgotten by the world: the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the merciful, the persecuted, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5). On judgment day the saved will be commended for their works of love and mercy (Matt. 25). The mercy Matthew himself received, opened his eyes for this aspect of Christ's ministry.

Matthew puts this question to us: have you found peace in Christ regarding your past? Maybe there is something in your past you are terribly ashamed of. Even if God could forgive you, you couldn't forgive yourself. Matthew brought his past to Jesus. When Jesus accepted and forgave him, he threw off that heavy burden. He did not keep on punishing himself. Lay down your burden at the foot of the cross, and let Jesus free you completely of self-blame.

DECISION: I hand my past, present and future over to Jesus.

PRAYER: Jesus, thank you for accepting me as I were and as I am. But I don't want to stay as I am, I want to grow and prosper under your caring hand. Amen.


FOR MEDITATION AND DISCUSSION:

1. When we focus on the good of the past, we may miss opportunities now. When we brood on the bad of the past, we may be caught up in blaming others or ourselves. When we totally ignore the past, we will repeat the mistakes we made. Can you think of occasions when you paid too much or too little attention to the past?

2. When we focus on the expected good of the future, we may be so busy with those dreams that we miss the bus now. Or when we concentrate on the expected bad things of the future, we may be paralyzed by anxiety and pessimism. When we ignore the future altogether, we will not plan intelligently, and be caught unawares. Can you think of occasions when you paid too much or too little attention to the future?

3. When we focus only on the good things in the present, ignoring the lessons of the past and the challenges of the future, we may get caught up in pleasures and parties. When we are preoccupied with the bad things of the present, we get stressed and depressed. When we try to ignore or to escape the present, we are not handling the problems and opportunities of the present as we could or should. Can you think of examples where you paid to much or to little attention to the present?

4. Which one of the three (past, present or future) is the most difficult one for you to handle constructively? Why?

Matthew (2): Use What You Have
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

Matthew enriched the Church with his talent for the passed twenty centuries.

First read: Mat 5:1-12, 25:1-13.

Apart from Matthew's calling, the Bible gives almost no further information on him. He was not often on the foreground like Peter. He was not even among the three privileged ones that Jesus took with Him on special occasions. Notwithstanding his reserved presence, he was there with the rest: seeing, listening, taking in, digesting, growing.

There were three things that Matthew did not leave in his office: his pen, ink and paper. The pen was a feather stuck in his hair; the ink was in a small jar hanging from his waist, the paper was papyrus sheets in a leather bag on his back. Whenever Jesus preached Matthew got out his pen, ink and paper and made notes. (How he would have appreciated a tape recorder!) Later when he got the chance he would write the notes out in more detail. In this way Matthew was able to add long recordings of what Jesus said: the sermon on the mount (5-7); the sending of the twelve (10); the parables (13); the denunciation of the scribes (23); the prophetical words of Jesus before His crucifixion (24-25). By recording the powerful words of Jesus, Matthew portrayed Him as Prophet.

As Peter put his boat at the disposal of Jesus, so Matthew offered his skill of writing. And he enriched believers of twenty centuries with his talent. When he made those notes, he probably did it for the benefit of his own memory and growth. He didn't do it to become famous. Years later when he read the story of Jesus as told by Peter and Mark, he realized that his notes on the sermons of Jesus could be a valuable addition.

While Peter and Mark wrote their story in Rome for the believers in Rome, Matthew had the Jews in mind when he wrote his. So he had to pour it into another form. He referred to the Old Testament more than forty times, to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, and what happened to Him, was the fulfillment of prophecies. That is most probably the reason why Matthew's book was placed first in the New Testament, although it was not the first one written. With its references to the Old Testament it forms a good transition from the Old to the New Testament.

As he made progress with his own book he remembered several incidents not mentioned by Peter and Mark, for instance: the dreams of Joseph before and after the birth of Jesus; the wise men from the East; the massacre of the children of Bethlehem; the flight to Egypt; several sermons and parables of Jesus; the coin in the mouth of the fish; the sealing of the sepulcher; and the missionary charge to the church. About 45% of Matthew's book was new material not found in Mark's book.

Although the real church does not consist of buildings but of believers, this communion of people is sometimes compared with a building (1 Cor 3:9-17, 1 Pet 2:4-5). The believers and their actions are like bricks built on one another. The fact that somebody else already has made a meaningful contribution in a certain area, must not deter others to make theirs. If Matthew would have hold back what he had, the church would have missed most important information.

How much poorer we would have been without Matthew's comprehensive record of the sermon on the mount! Important issues are addressed: suffering; persecution; the relation between Mosaic law and Christian Gospel; interpersonal friction; revenge; prayer; money; criticism; the two roads to eternity; false and true religion; the two foundations to built on.

Matthew's record of Jesus' prophecies on the end of the world, is more comprehensive than the other Gospels. He gave us the parables of the ten virgins, and the last judgment, where the saved and the lost will be separated like sheep and goats. It is one of the places where Jesus emphasized that faith has to be followed by love: I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. Assuredly I say to you: inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these brethren, you did it to Me.

The last time Matthew's name is mentioned in the Bible, is in Acts 1: he was waiting and praying with the others for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He too was filled with the Spirit's love, peace, joy and power. In his own silent way he worked for his Savior. When he heard that Peter and Mark produced the first written document on Jesus, He immediately tried to get hold of a copy. When he did, the desire to make the story of Jesus more comprehensive by adding the notes he made long ago, inspired him to write his own version of the Gospel.

DECISION: I will not hide my talent - it may have value for one person.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, please double my talent as I proceed to use it. You have improved the words and deeds of many people as they tried to say or do something in the service of Your kingdom. Let me experience that as well. Amen.

FOR MEDITATION AND DISCUSSION:

1. Reading Mark's and Matthew's Gospels together let us see the difference in reporting, in spite of the similarities. The fact that Matthew was an eye-witness with Peter, and the possibility that Matthew did not want to question Peter's report, could have influenced Matthew to stay as closely as possible to the Gospel of Mark. He confirmed the reliability of Mark's Gospel.

2. How will you have to do it today - if you have been greatly influenced by another author, and you want to build on that and make your own contribution by adding new data or insight to that of the first author?

3. Matthew left us a rich inheritance: the words of Jesus. His record of the sermon on the mount became a classic. Identify the parts of Matthew's Gospel that are not found in the other Gospels, and ask yourself: would it really have made such a difference if we didn't have this information? Just think of the following golden words in the sermon on the mount:

"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake."

"You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world..."

"Do not swear at all... Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No,' 'No'."

"Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two."

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

"Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?"

"Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"THE YOKE OF YESHUA"
lays the four gospels side by side
and tells the whole story in chronological order.
(Available at AuthorHouse.com)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Luke (1): The Beloved Physician
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

While Paul was in prison, Luke did his research in Israel, talking to people who had witnessed what Jesus had said and done.

First read: Lk 1:1-4, Acts 16.

After Paul's way had been blocked to Cyprus, then Asia, and then Bithynia, he came to Troas where he had the vision of the Macedonian man calling him over onto European soil. In Troas he also had a meeting with a physician which would mean a lot to him and to the Church in years to come. From his letters we know that Paul had trouble with his health. He visited this physician, Dr. Luke, and while the doctor attended to his body, he attended to the doctor's soul. Both were successful: Paul recovered and Luke accepted the Christian faith.

A long and strong friendship started. It was this Luke who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, so he humbly omits a description of this meeting with Paul. He only gave his readers a subtle clue that he joined Paul's mission by writing in the first person: "we" did this and that. From the "we" parts in Acts we know when Luke was present. Luke accompanied them to Philippi. The first "we" part ends at Acts 16:17. He was not arrested with Paul and Silas, and he did not accompany them on their journey through Greece. He probably stayed in Macedonia, and supported the new Christians there. That is where Paul met him again many months later (Acts 20:5).

Apparently Luke did not part with Paul again, but stayed at his side to Jerusalem and to Rome. Although Acts 21:20 to 26:32 was written in third person again, there is reason to assume that Luke stayed on in Israel during Paul's imprisonment there. When Paul was sent to Rome, Luke immediately started with "we" again.

While Paul sat frustrated for two years in the prison of Caesarea, Luke did his research on the life of Jesus. It was the only time Luke was in Israel to do this. Surely, the Lord works in strange and mysterious ways. He limited the activities of a very active worker (Paul) for a few years, to enable another worker (Luke) to complete a task that would serve the Church for twenty centuries.

Luke accepted Christ as Lord of his heart, and therefore he wanted to know Him better. He learned from Paul as much as he could about Jesus, but there was a longing in him to get into contact with those who met Jesus personally during His life on earth. That's why he grabbed the opportunity with both hands to accompany Paul to Israel.

The more he learned about Jesus, the more he identified himself with his Master and with His followers. Many of the people who had personal contact with Jesus were still alive. One contact lead to another, and so Luke went from town to town for personal interviews with those who saw what Jesus did, and heard what He said. And what a treasure he collected!

Shortly before his death Paul wrote from Rome to Timothy: "Only Luke is with me." Paul's beloved physician (Col 4:14) stayed with him till the end. The two years Luke was with Paul in Rome gave him the opportunity to write two books: the Luke Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

In the first verses of his book we learn about Luke's scientific approach of thorough research before he started writing in the best Greek. He discovered a rich treasure of information that was not recorded by Mark and Matthew. A verse-count shows that about 41% of Luke's book was new material. What was that new material?

Only Luke told as about the following events: the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus; the stories about Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna, the stable and the shepherds; the boy Jesus between the teachers in the temple (Lk 1-2); the widow of Nain (7:11); the sinful woman who anointed Jesus (7:36); the women who served Jesus with their own means (8:1); Martha and Mary (10:38); the division brought by Jesus (12:49); the crippled woman (13:10); Jesus warned against Herod (13:31); the ten lepers (17:11); Zacchaeus the tax-collector (19:1); Jesus praying for Peter (22:32); Jesus before Herod (23:6); the women on the way to Calvary (23:27); the appearance of Jesus to Peter alone (24:34), and to the two on their way to Emmaus (24:13). You will be richly rewarded if you read these passages.

Luke also saved the following parables for us: the good Samaritan (10:25); the helpful friend (11:5); the rich fool (12:13); the barren fig tree (13:6); the front seats (14:7); calculating the cost of discipleship (14:28); the lost sheep, coin and son (15:1); the unjust steward (16:1); the rich man and Lazarus (16:19); the unworthy servant (17:7); the judge and the widow (18:1); the Pharisee and the tax-collector (18:9).

DECISION: I want to learn more of the knowledge God embedded in Scripture and Nature.

PRAYER: Dear God, show me how I can follow Luke's example. Show me how I can put my skills and knowledge in the service of Your kingdom. Show me how to keep on expanding my insight into Your wonderful works. Amen.

FOR MEDITATION AND DISCUSSION:

1. If you look at the list of episodes that Luke could add to that of Mark and Matthew, thanks to his thorough research, do you think his effort was worth the while? Which of these are dear to you? Imagine Christmas without the information of Luke 1 and 2.

2. How can you put your talents, knowledge and experience into service for Christ?

3. Luke was never on the foreground as a lively preacher. He did his research, writing, and caring for Paul, behind the screens. Nevertheless, he made contributions of paramount importance to the Church of all centuries. Maybe you too don't have the looks, voice, personality and flair to impress the crowds, but you may make some meaningful contributions from behind the screen. Start small. Helping others with a project, supporting a ministry, starting with a Bible-study group of three people, signing on for some responsibilities at your church. In a modest way you can be the salt of the earth.

4. Often we feel frustrated and discouraged by closed doors. There may be something we seriously want to do, we are inspired, we believe in it, much good can come from it - yet, our way is blocked by the one obstacle after the other. Then we wonder: why does God allow this? Paul's way was blocked several times in Acts 16. He accepted it as the guidance of the Holy Spirit. By yielding to this guidance, Paul was brought into contact with Timothy and Luke, who would become important pioneers in the early Church. Furthermore, Paul got the golden opportunity to plant the Church in Europe. What appeared to be setbacks, were actually great strides ahead for his ministry, and for the kingdom of God.

Luke (2): Father, Forgive Them
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

Luke's research showed that prayer had been important in the life of Jesus.

First read: Lk 15.

Mark portrayed Jesus as KING by focusing on His mighty deeds; Matthew described Him as PROPHET by recording His divine words; and Luke painted Him as PRIEST by highlighting His wonderful mercy and prayers.

In his research Luke, the doctor, noticed that in word and deed Jesus gave much attention to the sick, the oppressed, and the despised. In his book Luke referred at least 21 times to women, compared with 8 times by Mark. Women had subordinate roles and fewer rights, compared to men. For millions of women that is still the situation today. Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus and Luke started a process that made a difference to millions of women today. Luke gave them a prominent place in his books. There were those involved with the birth of Christ; He healed and raised them from death; they adored and served him; He gave them a role in His parables. By including many women in his books, Luke followed his Master in laying the foundations for a better dispensation for women. However, he did not over-emphasize, he only planted the seed.

The mercy of Jesus for hopeless sinners shines in the parables on the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son, and in the parable on the Pharisee and the tax-collector. The latter's simple but sincere prayer: "God, be merciful to me a sinner" is recommended by Jesus as a prayer that will be heard by God. Lazarus, the God-serving beggar, receives eternal life, while the rich man who lived and died without God, experiences the agony of hell. When Jesus was crucified He asked His Father to forgive those who were driving in the nails. In His dying moments He still had mercy left for the repentant sinner who was crucified with him.

In the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus charged His followers to be merciful like Himself. This person acted on behalf of someone in need: he saw the wounded man, felt sympathy for him, bandaged his wounds, transported him to an inn, cared for him, paid for further expenses, and revisited him. Mercy acts positively NOW.

To keep on giving Himself for so many afflicted people, Jesus had to renew His strength through prayer. Several of Luke's informants referred to prayer in the life of the Master, and Luke took note of that secret. Some of His parables have prayer as theme: The helpful friend, the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the judge and the widow, and the watchful servant. With these lessons Jesus emphasized the importance of sincerity and perseverance in our prayer life.

Jesus prayed a whole night before He called His disciples. His transfiguration on the mountain began while He prayed. After one of His prayers the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, and He gave them the famous Lord's Prayer. He prayed for Peter that he will not lose faith. In His darkest hours Jesus prayed more earnestly until His sweat fell like drops of blood on the ground. When they nailed Him to the cross He prayed for His executioners. And when His task was accomplished, He gave His spirit over to His Father with a prayer.

Luke made great sacrifices when he became the personal physician of a poor missionary, and when he became author on a book about the rejected Messiah. He lost the income of his practice, and became poor himself. He did not pity himself for that, but was inspired with a vision to spread the Gospel through his books.

Immediately after his conversion he accompanied Paul with enthusiasm from Troas to Philippi: "Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them... we went out of the city to the riverside....we sat down and spoke to the women.." (Acts 16:10, 13). Luke fully identified himself with Jesus and His followers. It brought meaning and happiness into his life, in spite of material losses.

Listen to the joy with which he ended his two books. His Gospel ends with these words:

"Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen."

The Acts of the Apostles ends with this statement:

"Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him."

DECISION: I must maintain contact with the power-station to be of any use.

PRAYER: Merciful God, fill my heart with Your love, and bring me into action when I see someone in need. Create a continuous need in me to make contact with You, so that I can receive the power from You to keep on giving myself. Amen.

FOR MEDITATION AND DISCUSSION:

1. There are many poor, sick and old people around us who will appreciate our help. There are also many who are emotionally wounded or down, and whose need is not so obvious. Friendliness, good manners, and appreciation are like soothing drops of medicine for those hidden wounds. Distribute some of it daily and you'll be surprised at the reaction.

2. Think of an occasion when you felt down, worried, disappointed or hurt, and someone else made you feel better just by being nice and friendly, without even knowing about your problem. What are your own most urgent emotional needs at present?

3. If we see prayer only as asking favors, it can become very boring and disappointing. It focuses our attention on what we do not have, thus making us dissatisfied and morbid. Beginning our prayer with praise and thanksgiving, for spiritual and material privileges, directs our attention on what we already have, thus making us thankful and joyful. What are you thankful for?

4. Make a list of the topics Jesus included in His prayers:

Matthew 6:9-13; 9:38; 11:25; 18:19;

Mark 9:29; 11:24-25; 15:34;

Luke 6:12; 9:16; 9:29; 11:9-13; 18:1, 9-14; 22:31-32; 22:41-44; 23:34; 23:46;

John 4:23; 11:41; 12:27-28; 14:16-17; 17:1-26.

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"THE YOKE OF YESHUA"
lays the four gospels side by side
and tells the whole story in chronological order.
(Available at AuthorHouse.com)
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John (1): Born Again
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

John knew this fundamental change of heart through personal experience.

First read: Jn 3:1-21, 36.

John was a fisherman too, and like Peter, Jesus called him on more than one occasion. John went through the same schooling as Peter: seeing what Jesus did, hearing what He said, digesting these experiences, and gradually growing in his spiritual life. And yet, his mental picture of Jesus differed slightly from that of his fellow-disciples, Peter and Matthew.

Tradition has it that John was the youngest of the disciples, and that he lived the longest. Most scholars date his book about twenty years later than those written by Mark, Matthew and Luke. He did not have to repeat what the others recorded already. About 81% of John's book was new material. His main aims were to fill in a few gaps on the Judean ministry of Jesus, and to combat certain heresies which sprang up during the last part of the first century. According to early writers John then was an elderly father-figure in the church of Ephesus.

The first three Gospels don't report on the visits of Jesus to Jerusalem during His three year ministry. They only elaborate on the last and final visit to the mother city. It is possible that Peter didn't accompany them on those first visits to Jerusalem. He was married and had to provide for his family. Why Matthew and Luke omitted that history is not known. John was young and was not limited by family responsibilities, so he did accompany Jesus to Jerusalem.

He noticed that in contrast to the simple teaching of Jesus in Galilee, His approach in Jerusalem was more sophisticated. The people up north came to Jesus with their hungry souls and sick bodies, and gratefully accepted what He gave them in words and deeds. The religious elite in Jerusalem did not like Jesus, and they tried to corner Him with tricky questions. Their skepticism and animosity were radiated through their questions. Above all they questioned the authority of Jesus.

Except for several Passovers (Jn 2:13, 6:4, 11:55) Jesus also attended other feasts in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1, 7:2, 10:22). Although only three miracles took place in or near Jerusalem, they were quite remarkable: a man at Bethesda who suffered from an illness for 38 years (Jn 5); the man who was born blind (Jn 9); and the raising of Lazarus from death four days after he had died (Jn 11).

From the first three Gospels one could get the impression that Jesus ignored or neglected Jerusalem. Not so, says John, they heard His words and saw His deeds on several occasions. So what was wrong with them that they could not accept Him for what He was?

When John called himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (13:23) he was not speaking in arrogance but in humility. With that sentence he did not want to declare that Jesus loved him only, or that Jesus loved him more than the others. The fact that Jesus loved him too, remained John's prime source of joy and thankfulness. Because of the love he received, he wanted to give and to radiate love to others as much as he could, and he urged others to do the same. He became known as the "apostle of love".

However, that is not where he started. Mark mentioned that Jesus named the two brothers, John and James, "Boanerges" meaning: Sons of Thunder. They wanted to pray down fire from heaven on the Samaritans who refused to welcome Jesus. They asked Jesus to let them sit on His left and right hand in His kingdom so that they could vigorously execute all His commands. They were emotionally intense, short-tempered and domineering. But Jesus changed them. James died as a martyr, and John became obsessed with love.

Of this fundamental change of heart and mind he spoke early in his Gospel. One of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, who became a secret follower of Jesus (Jn 19:38-40), paid Jesus a nightly visit to discuss his questions. He was still beating about the bush when Jesus put the main issue on the table: no one can see (understand) the kingdom of God unless he/she is spiritually born again: a change brought about by the Holy Spirit, and which results in a change of insight, perspective, beliefs, views, values, attitudes, behavior, and relations.

John knew this change of heart through personal experience. Therefore, he emphasized that faith and love are the two main ingredients of this experience. By accepting and trusting Jesus as your personal Savior (faith), you become a Christian; and by practical love towards God and others (love), you live as a Christian. These two main characteristics of a Christian is explained in more detail in Chapters 35 to 38.

DECISION: I will not give up hope for myself or for others.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, please proceed with Your work in my life, so that I can become that person who You want me to be. Amen.

FOR MEDITATION AND DISCUSSION:

1. Though faith is expected of us, to enter into God's kingdom (Jn 1:12, 3:16, 6:47), the Bible also states that faith is GIVEN to us by God (Eph. 2:8-9). Try to explain this to yourself with the help of John 6:37 and 44. (God gave us legs to walk, but we have to do the walking).

2. The Bible says we cannot understand anything of Gods kingdom before the Holy Spirit has changed our hearts and minds (Mat 6:22, Jn 3:3, Jn 6:44, 1 Cor 2:14). This is not discouraging but encouraging: when you have the need and longing to come to God, you can know for sure that He is working in you already, and will not push you aside.

3. Have a closer look at John's description of Thomas, and see how he changed from a skeptical, pessimistic, unhappy person, to a believing, hopeful, joyful follower of Christ. (Jn 11:1-16; 14:1-6; 20:24-29; Acts 1:13).

4. Do you think Nicodemus got the message on re-birth, when you look at his actions in Jn 7:50-51 and 19:38-42?

5. Paul described his own spiritual rebirth in Philippians 3. This change of heart and life he also described in Rom 12:2 - "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
 

John (2): I Am
(Unpublished Group Bible Study. All Rights Reserved)

God is identified with truth, and Satan with lies.

First read: Jn 6:47-58.

The confrontations Jesus had with the religious leaders in Jerusalem repeatedly steered in the direction of these questions: Who are you? Who sent you? These questions gave Jesus the opportunity to talk about His relation to the Father, and the meaning of His mission. By recording these discussions, John answered the heretics of his day on the human and divine nature of Christ.

John remembered those words of his Master that confirmed the unity, as well as the distinction, between God the Father and God the Son. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." (1:1). The Son does everything that the father does: raising people from death; having life in himself; having power to judge the living and the dead (Jn 5). "I and My Father are one." (10:30). "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." (14:9). "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me." (14:11). If you want to know how the Father really is, look at Jesus. Humanity cannot climb up to God; He came down to us in human form: Jesus is God-in-the-flesh. The Son of God exists for all eternity; He accepted human nature at a certain point in history. Mary gave birth to His human nature.

Jesus identified God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with TRUTH, and the devil with lies. Praying to the Father, Jesus said: "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth." (17:17). Of Himself Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (14:6). Of the Holy Spirit He said: "When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth..." (16:13).

However, Jesus called the devil the father of lies: "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it." (8:44). These are indeed strong statements regarding the integrity of the Trinity, and the lack of integrity on the side of Satan.

With regard to the questions about His mission, Jesus gave several "I am" answers. He presented Himself as bread, water and light. "I am the bread of life" (6:35). He promised the water of life to those who believe in Him (4:14, 7:37). "I am the light of the world" (8:12, 9:5). He made these statements before, during and after the feast of the Tabernacles when the Jews remembered the life in the desert after their ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt. They thought about the bread from heaven (manna), the water from the rock, and the pillar of fire that guarded over them during the nights.

He went on to say: "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved..." (10:9). "I am the good shepherd" (10:11). "I am the resurrection and the life." (11:25). "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (14:6). "I am the vine, you are the branches." (15:5). "...before Abraham was, I am" (8:58). These statements are so simple that the meaning is obvious, yet they are so deep too, that no theology can fathom them completely. There is a connection between these statements and God's self-introduction to Moses at the burning bush: I AM WHO I AM (Ex. 3:14).

John recorded how He revealed Himself in a very personal way to a few individuals. To Nicodemus He gave the golden verse: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (3:16). When He said to the Samaritan woman that we must worship God in spirit and truth, she wanted to avoid the issue by saying that the Messiah will teach them all there is to know about true worship. Then Jesus introduced Himself to her: "I who speak to you am He." (4:26).

He healed a man who was born blind and asked him afterwards if he believed in the Son of God. When the man ask who that was, He said: "You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you." And the man confessed his faith in Him and worshiped Him. (9:35-38).

When Jesus first appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, Thomas was not with them. And when they told him that Jesus lived, he refused to accept it. He even said that he first would put his finger into the wounds of His hands, and his hand into the wound of His side, before he would believe. When Jesus appeared to them again, He invited Thomas to do what he said. Meeting the risen Christ personally, made him put aside his doubts, and enabled him to confess Him as his Lord and his God. (20:24-28).

DECISION: Jesus and John said it clear enough: I accept Jesus as He revealed Himself.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank you for speaking out clearly on who You are, and thank You for inspiring John to write it down for Christians of all times, to be a sure foundation to our faith. Amen.

FOR MEDITATION AND DISCUSSION:

1. In the light of His miracles and His self-descriptions, do you think that Jesus gave the people of Jerusalem a clear indication of who He was?

2. The Jews longed for the coming of the Messiah more than ever. Yet, the question of the high priest that would determine Jesus' fate, was: "Are you the Christ, the Son of God?" When Jesus confirmed that He is, He was sentenced immediately. We have looked at the following questions in Chapters 5 and 6, but let us revisit them now with reference to the self-introduction of Jesus to the people of Jerusalem: What do you think made Jesus totally unacceptable to them as Messiah? Why didn't He match their image of the Messiah?

3. If God identifies Himself with the truth, and the devil with lies, does that mean we should always speak the truth? When Samson told the truth about his strength to the enemy (Delilah) he lost his eyes, freedom and life (Judges 16). When Rahab lied to the enemy, she saved the lives of Joshua's spies, and she was rewarded for that (Joshua 2).

4. How would you explain the relationship between the second table of the law (love your neighbor as yourself), and the ninth commandment (you shall not give false testimony), which is part of the second table? If I would smear my neighbor's name with nasty truths from the past, will that be in line with love? Should we sometimes keep the truth to ourselves, if this will not jeopardize justice? How can we keep a practical balance between love and truth? "...speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head - Christ..." (Eph. 4:15).

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