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Summer Memorization Projects

Before we dive back into studying the people of the Bible, I wanted to take a small break to introduce our memorization projects for this summer! In the summer, since we have a couple of months and you’re not in school, I like us to work on a doing some Bible related memorization! Last summer we worked on memorizing the Books of the Bible for all grades, because understanding where things are in the Bible is really important, and it’s really helpful for you guys who are entering Confirmation Class to know where everything is so you can keep up in Confirmation Class.

For those of you who are rising eighth graders, we are doing the books of the Bible again this year! So if you remembered it from last year, you’re ahead of the game! However, this year for each grade level we’re going to do a different memorization project. Today we’re going to go over each assignment, look into a little background on them and why they’re important and why I chose them for the memorization project!

We’ll start with the sixth graders! So go grab your Bibles!

Does anyone know what the word Christian means?

[Let them answer.]

The word Christian literally means follower of Christ, that is follower of Jesus. Following Jesus is the point of everything that we as Christians do. Right now we’re studying the Old Testament, so we haven’t talked about Jesus too much, but since he is the point of everything, there are two verses about Jesus that I personally think are two of the most important verses for understanding God and Jesus, and those are the verses I would like you to memorize.

Please flip to John 3:16-21. And I’m not going to make you memorize this whole section, just one verse in it so don’t freak out! I just want you to read a greater portion for context. Alright someone read John 3:16-21.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 In this story, Jesus is talking to a man name Nicodemus, who is a religious leader of the time. Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night because he was afraid to be seen talking to him, but he wanted to hear Jesus’s teaching and wisdom because Nicodemus believed that Jesus was sent from God—though he didn’t necessarily believe Jesus was God—which is what we believe.

So Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus for what purpose God sent Jesus. So he tells Nicodemus that God loves the word, he loves the word and everyone in it, and that’s why he sent Jesus—his only Son—so that Jesus can save everyone.

We talked about before that God’s plan is the restoration of all creation and that includes us—the humans who are made in his image. God sending Jesus is part of this restoration—is part of making us right with God. God didn’t send Jesus to condemn us—he didn’t send Jesus to punish us—he sent Jesus to save and restore the world, all of creation, and most importantly us.

But some people aren’t going to believe in Jesus—and Jesus acknowledges that here. Jesus is the light that has been sent into the world. But some people don’t like that—some people don’t like the light. Because when you light a room—it exposes everything that’s happening in the room, and some people just want to hide in darkness so their bad deeds are covered and not seen. It’s like roaches, when you turn a light on, they scurry away, afraid of the light and want to hide under furniture. Or buglers who only want to rob a house under the cover of darkness, but if the lights come on they run away. They’re afraid of the light is what Jesus is saying.

But people who do good, when the light is turned on their goodness is exposed and everyone sees their goodness. And those who want to do good are attracted to the light! And they realize that all the good they have been doing has been for God.

So why are we looking at all this? Why is it important? Because God sent Jesus because he loves us. Sometimes some people can twist the message of Christianity and it can seem like God is wrathful and doesn’t love people at all and just wants people to die. But that’s not the case! God loves us! And he sent Jesus not to hurt us, not to condemn us, but to restore us! It’s amazing, it’s a miracle!

Why is it a miracle?

Because Jesus is God. He is the human incarnation of God. God loved us so much that he chose to limit himself in human form and walk amongst us. God could have just stayed in heaven, and not dirtied himself down here on earth. But instead he chose to come here to have a relationship with us, to be like us, so he can restore us! And the next verse is also related to this!

Please turn to Hebrews 4:14-16.

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This verse is talking directly about the miracle of incarnation, that is the miracle of God choosing to become fully human. What the writer of Hebrews is saying, what is unique about Christianity, is that our highest of the high—the Hebrews calls him a High Priest but he means Jesus he means God—our God, the creator of everything—didn’t stay in a white tower, pristine and separate from us, judging us from this spotless tower for being muddy because we live in a world that has mud! No! Instead our God came and chose to be among us, to be one of us, because Jesus was fully man and fully God. And every temptation we experience? He experienced. We have a God who knows what it’s like to have siblings—and probably to argue with them.

We have a God who knows what it’s like to have a mother who yells at him—there are at least two different stories in the Bible where Mary gets mad at Jesus, when he gets left behind at the Temple when he’s 13 and when he’s a grown adult and Mary is mad at him for not bringing enough wine to the party! The next time your parents yell at you, you can remind yourself, hey…God has experienced this exact same thing—and he responded correctly, without wrong, and without sin, and so can I!

Jesus survived every temptation you might ever experience. Temptations of family, peer pressure, sexual temptations, all of that—he experienced.

Our God knows what it’s like for us to live in the mud because he once lived in the mud with us.

It’s amazing and miraculous and something is inherently unique to Christianity. Jesus was born, held by his mother, fell and skinned his knees, fought with siblings, fought with his parents, had friends who both loved him and betrayed him, had friends who died, and then later died himself. Jesus experienced all of that. And that is amazing. He experienced all of that and remained perfect, and always chose the right course of action, and through him we can choose the right course of action too.

So that is why I want you guys to memorize John 3:16 and Hebrews 4:15. Let’s say John 3:16 together:

 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

And now Hebrews 4:15.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 

These verses are about Jesus and critical to our understanding of who Jesus is. That’s why I want the rising sixth graders to memorize these two verses.

Okay next us is what I want the rising seventh graders to memorize. It’s called the Lords Prayer. Does anyone here already know the Lord’s Prayer? [Let them answer/raise their hands]

[Let someone recite it, but if no one can, recite it yourself]:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Does anyone know where the Lord’s prayer comes from? Or why we recite it? [Let them answer.]

Well let’s turn to where it comes from. Please turn to Matthew 6:5-15.

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.[a]

7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
10     Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
11     Give us this day our daily bread.
12     And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13     And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

This section of Matthew is Jesus teaching people about prayer and how to pray. He’s saying that when we pray, we shouldn’t pray for the purpose of reward or to be seen. Prayer is for us and for God, so we when we pray we should pray in private, for it to be between us and God.

Jesus also says in the next section that when you’re praying don’t use a bunch of flowery words for no reason. Just…speak to God like you would normally speak. You don’t need those flowery words to talk to God. God hears your meaning, and he knows what you need even before you ask, so even if your words aren’t pretty, he knows what you mean.

And then he gives us a recommended prayer. This can be used both as a prayer in itself but also a formula for a prayer.

Our Father in heaven—address your prayer to God, is what he’s saying.

Hallowed be your name—recognize that God is awesome.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven—recognize God’s will is ultimately what’s important.

Give us this day our daily bread.—Basically it’s okay to ask God for things we need. He understands, and won’t be angry at us for asking him. We need food to survive, and if you have needs or even wants, God wants to hear them and provide them for you if he can.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors—We should ask God for forgiveness when we do things wrong, but because God forgives us we should forgive the people who wrong us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. The version your memorizing translates it as: lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Which is basically asking God to keep us away from things that might tempt us, but when it does happen help us make right choices, and help keep us away from evil.

Now the version your memorizing ends this prayer in For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Basically us recognizing that God’s power and glory is forever, and everything is his.

We call this the Lord’s prayer. You can literally just pray this, like we do in church every Sunday, or you can use it as a format for a prayer. Or you can pray however you want because God doesn’t need flowering words, he just wants you to talk to him.

This prayer is how Jesus taught us to pray and that’s why it’s important. And it’s something we do corporately as a church. If you go to service, every week we recite this together as a church, together we pray this to God. And it’s a beautiful thing.

It’s important for us to know it because it’s how Jesus taught us to pray. And it’s also nice for us to know it because it’s something we do together across denominations as a church. So that is why I would like you guys to memorize it. And I would like you to memorize the version that we recite together in church each Sunday.

Let’s recite it together now.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

So that is the projects for the seventh graders.

For the eighth graders, we are focusing on memorizing the books of the Bible. You guys know that I strongly believe in Bible literacy and familiarity. This is why in Middle School Sunday School I don’t usually give page numbers for the sections we turn to. Instead I make you guys find it—you can use the table of contents or as you get more familiar with the order of the books of the Bible you’ll be able to flip directly there.

Knowing how the Bible is arranged and knowing how to flip your way through it is an important skill for Bible study.

So let’s talk about the books of the Bible. Does anyone know how the books of the Bible are ordered? Why they’re ordered the way they are? [Let them answer.]

The books of the Bible are arranged by genre. Genre is basically how we classify books—a books genre tells you what kind of book it is. For example, Harry Potter is of the Fantasy genre. This tells you it’s a book about magic. Science Fiction is a genre that’s about the future—sometimes space but sometimes near future with cool technology. The books of the Bible also have genres. Some books are of the historical type, other books are the poetry type, some books are the prophecy type, and some books are a more commentary/philosophy type. A lot of the books we have been studying—the stories we’ve been studying in 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings are the history type of book. When we studied Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, those are the poetry type!

Different people order the Bible in different ways. We’ve talked about before how in the Jewish Bible 1&2 Chronicles it at the very end but in the Protestant version of the Bible, which we use, 1&2 Chronicles is right after 1&2 Kings. That’s because the Protestant version of the Bible is ordered by genre.

This means the Bible is not in chronological order—which is why sometimes we jump around a bit. But it also means that if you know what type of book of the Bible something is then you know generally where it belongs!

So here on the white board I’ve written how the books of the Bible are ordered and how they’re divided up. You can see the general order of the Old Testament big level is The Torah also known as the Law, then History, then Poetry & Wisdom, then Major Prophets, and then Minor Prophets. All the books of the old Testament fit into one of these divisions. And if you can remember something is Minor Prophet as opposed to a major prophet you will know it’s at the end of the Old Testament!

The new Testament is even easier. It’s Gospels, then the Letters of Paul, then the letters of other people, and then all by itself is Revelation.

Of course if you can just straight up memorize the order of the books of the Bible, that’s even easier. You don’t even have to remember what sort of genre it is, though knowing a book of the Bible’s genre is good because it helps you know what to expect from that book. But for the eighth graders, all I’m really requiring is that you know the order.

If you know the order, you won’t have to flip to the Table of Contents every time you want to find something. You can just open the Bible and based on what book you flip open to you know how to turn and find the book you’re looking for!

Another way to help with Bible familiarity is something called Bible Drill! Which is a game! This game is basically who can find a Bible verse fastest! So we’re going to end by playing this game for a little bit. And if you find the book of the Bible first then you get a piece of candy.

But before we start that, recap. Sixth graders I want you to memorize John 3:16 and Hebrews 4:15. Seventh Graders I want you to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, particularly the version we use in Church every Sunday which is written here on the board. And Eighth Graders I want you to memorize the books of the Bible. This will also all be an email from Halecia to your parents.

Alright Bible Drill! Everyone close your Bibles. Closed all the way. Then I’m going to call out a verse. After I say the verse you may immediately start looking for it—you can use the Table of Contents that’s fine. And whoever finds it first, raise your hand. And then when I call on you you’ll have to read it out loud to prove you found the right verse. And if it’s right, you get a piece of candy. Okay you guys ready?

Alright let’s start!

  • Psalm 19:14
    •  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
  •  Matthew 21:22
    • Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
  • 1 Chronicles 16:8
    •  O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
  • 1 John 4:19
    • We love because he first loved us.
  • Micah 6:8
    • He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
  • Philippians 4:13
    • I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Overview of Ecclesiastes

So for the past few weeks we’ve been taking high level looks at the more poetical books of the Bible. We’ve discussed Psalms which is basically a book of poems. We’ve discussed Proverbs, which is a book of wisdom. Now we’re going to look at Ecclesiastes which is somewhere between those two—poetry and wisdom.

Unlike Proverbs and Psalms, Ecclesiastes is basically set up as the writings of one particular man, his ramblings and musings about life and God. In Jewish tradition, this writer is called “Koheleth.” In most English translations it’s translated as something like “Teacher” or “Rabbi” or “Preacher.” It is generally accepted that Solomon wrote this book—since in the very first chapter it called this teacher a son of David and king of Israel. However, it’s also possible this book was compiled later and attributed to Solomon—which was a pretty common thing to do back then. Why did people do that? Well it’s basically a writing/story telling technique. By making people think of Solomon you’re making them think of wisdom and that’s what the author wants you to get from this book: wisdom. Whether it’s written by Solomon or not, the wisdom in this book is what matters and what the writer is trying to get across.

So please open your Bibles and turn to Ecclesiastes. Which is just past Psalms and Proverbs. We’re only going to look at some famous sections and not all twelve chapters!

Can someone read Ecc. 1:1-11? It may seem like a lot but this section is in poem form so it’s actually pretty short.

The words of the Teacher,[a] the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,[b]
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What do people gain from all the toil
    at which they toil under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun goes down,
    and hurries to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south,
    and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
    and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
    but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
    there they continue to flow.
8 All things[c] are wearisome;
    more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    or the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has already been,
    in the ages before us.
11 The people of long ago are not remembered,
    nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
    by those who come after them.

This section introduces us to one of the major themes of Ecclesiastes and why Ecclesiastes is sometimes viewed as a bit of a depressing book. “Vanity of vanities!” verse 2 says and this is something that is repeated a lot in this book. Now when you think vanity, you may think like…being obsessed with looks. A vain person is someone who is obsessed with how they look and vanity is just another form of that word. But that’s not the only meaning of the word and that’s not what this author means. What he means here is “futility.”

If you like Star Trek you may have heard that work before from the Borg, “Resistance is Futile” meaning resistance is pointless. That is the meaning the author has here. Vanity here means worthless or futile or pointless. My Jewish translation of the Bible translates verse 2 as:

“Utter futility!—said Koheleth—Utter futility! All is futile!”

Basically “life is pointless!” is what the author is exclaiming and the next few verses go on to expand why he is feeling this sort of existential crisis. He says people work hard, they toil under the sun, every generation comes and goes and works hard and tries to build something…but they come and go and the earth remains. The sun rises and sets, not even caring about the humanity beneath it. The wind blows and blows with no point. Streams and rivers go to the sea, but it’s not like they can fill it up so what’s the point? All these things are pointless!

And then perhaps the most famous part right here is when he says basically whatever you do whatever has been there is nothing new under the sun. You’ve probably heard that phrase before “Nothing new under the sun.”

Basically this whole section is the author being like “What is the point of existence. We live so we can die and no one is ever going to remember us.”

That’s….super depressing. Like I said this is one of the more depressing books of the Bible. But this emotion that the author is expressing here, is something people feel a lot. We feel like we work hard and nothing changes. We fight for justice and against poverty, but still there is injustice in the world and still there are people starving to death. We fight to change the world to make things better, and then it seems like in another generation everything reverts back. We work hard and who will remember us in the end? That we even existed?

This is a common human emotion, and the author here is human and he’s expressing that. And this is what I mean when I say every emotion you may ever have you can find something in the Bible that correlates to it, even this level of existential crisis where you’re wondering what the purpose of life even is.

The author’s feelings here are summarized in Ecc. 2:17. Can someone read that?

17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

The message translates this as “I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is bad business .It’s smoke—and spitting into the wind.” Basically, another refrain of “what is the point?”

There is one other super famous section of Ecclesiastes. Someone please read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

This is up there as one of the most famous verses in the Bible, the sort of thing that’s quoted a lot even by people who don’t believe in the Bible. For everything there is a season. It’s pretty straight forward, there is a time for everything—birth, death, laugh, cry, be sad, be happy—there will be times in your life where you feel or experience all of these things. They are like seasons. You’re not experiencing death or sadness or famine or war because you did anything wrong (most likely). Just like no one causes Winter to come. It just does. It’s just a season. And without winter, we wouldn’t appreciate spring. We all go through seasons of life, but they’re just seasons. And they too will pass. So if you’re in a season of sadness or war, a season of peace and laughter is coming! There is hope in that.

There’s a modern saying I’ve heard, “This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it’ll pass.” Basically meaning that everything is temporary, and it may hurt like all get out while it’s here—because kidney stones are super painful—but in the end it will be over, and you’ll survive it.

So you can see even though the author is feeling like everything is pointless, there is a hope in this. Because this feeling of futility? It’s just a season. And it will pass and soon he will feel like he has a purpose again.

Someone please read Ecclesiastes 3:16-22.

16 Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. 19 For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

The author starts out this section by saying that things there are bad people everywhere it seems. Where there should be justice, instead there is injustice. Where there should be goodness, there is badness. He sees corruption everywhere he looks—people who are supposed to be good and just and fair are instead wicked and not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And it can seem like there is no justice on the earth and the same fate is in everyone’s future (death), but in the end God will judge and there will be justice for the good and the bad.

“All are from the dust and all turn to dust again.” This is also a famous verse that as we’ve already talked about is often quoted at Lent and on Ash Wednesday. God made us from dust and in the end we will die and go back to dust.

Also I just think this section is interesting because he’s like “who knows if humans go to heaven and have afterlife’s and animal’s don’t! For all I know animals are in heaven too” is basically what he’s saying. So next time someone tells you your dog isn’t in heaven, just quote this section of Ecclesiastes and be like “you can’t know what happens to animals when they die.”

And then the very last section is another theme of this book, “Enjoy your work because that is your lot.” You’re on this earth and you have to work so you might as well enjoy it!

So what is the point? This author seems really depressed like there is no point to life except death. Now there are a couple of things here for us to keep in mind as Christians. We’ve talked about before, but ancient Jewish people had no concept of heaven and hell. They thought when you died everyone went to this place called Sheol, which was pretty much just a place of sleep. We as Christians believe in heaven, basically that Jesus came so we may have *eternal life*. Because of Jesus we can live forever, but in heaven where there is no toil or strife. Jesus describes heaven as a feast, as a house with many rooms. In Revelation John says Jesus “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” So yes this author is stuck in the order and cycle of life and death where there is a season for everything, even death. But Jesus came to abolish death and we will live in a world one day with a new order where the only seasons will be life and laughter and joy.

We’re not there yet, but it’s coming.

This author of this book however was way before Jesus so he didn’t have a concept of this joy and hope Jesus is bringing.

That said, the author still comes to the idea that maybe the point of life is just…obey God and enjoy life the best you can. Someone read Ecclesiastes 9:7-10.

7 Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. 8 Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Enjoy life! The author says, because that’s what God wants you to do. God wants us to enjoy life.

Sometimes even as Christians we can get stuck in this idea that that’s not true. That God put all these rules on us and sucks all the fun out of life. But that’s not true. God wants you to have joy and true freedom. In 2 Corinthians 3:17 Paul says “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In Galations 5:13 Paul says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” Peter says in 1 Peter, “Act as free men.”

In John 8:36 Jesus says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus came to set us free. Free from sin. Free from death. We are no longer bound. We are free. And God wants us to enjoy that freedom, to enjoy this life we have!

It can be hard to remember this, because humans like rules. We like to make rules and like to say if you don’t follow rule X, Y, Z you are not a Christian. But that’s not true. There is no set of rules you can follow that will get you into heaven. The only thing we are called to do is love—and that’s not a limitation. We’re called to do something to love God and love others. And as long as we are doing that, as long as we’re loving God, then we’re naturally going to want to please him. Not because there is some rule, but because we love him and want to do what he would find good. If you’re truly loving your neighbor, you don’t need rules about what you have to do in regards to your neighbor, because when you love them you would never hurt them.

It’s freedom.

Love life! Live with freedom and joy! That is what it means to be a Christian, and ultimately it is following God and Jesus that is the purpose of this life.

But if at times life seems futile, that’s okay. That’s a natural human emotion, just like is expressed by the author here. And you can go back to Ecclesiastes and know you are not alone in how you feel. But remember that feeling of futility is just a season, and it to shall pass and you shall feel the purpose and freedom of God again.

 

Overview of Proverbs

A couple of weeks ago we talked about Solomon. When God told Solomon he could ask for anything he wanted, does anyone remember what Solomon asked for? [Let them answer.]

Wisdom.

We talked about how wisdom and knowledge are different. Knowledge is knowing things and facts. Wisdom is having the ability to discern between a right choice or a wrong choice, or even an okay choice and a better choice. Decisions aren’t all, after all, black and white or right and wrong. If you’re deciding what college to go to, rarely is there a wrong or sinful choice. It’s about making a wise choice—looking at the options and making the choice that is best for your career goals, financial situation, and personal life.

Solomon was known throughout the land for his wisdom—so much so that even foreign leaders came to visit him to learn from him. And Solomon decided that it wasn’t the wise choice to keep all of his wisdom to himself, so he compiled the book of Proverbs.

I saw compiled because some of these sayings in the book are older than Solomon. But Solomon found it wise to take all of the wisdom known to the people of his time plus his own wisdom and make this book: which is a collection of proverbs.

What is a proverb? Well a proverb is a short saying that conveys a life truth or piece of advice or for lack of a better word wisdom. A modern example of this that you may have heard is the saying, “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” Have you guys ever heard that saying before? [Let them answer.]

Does anyone know what it means? “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush?” [Let them answer.]

Well it means if you have a bird already, you caught a bird—for whatever reason you were bird hunting or you want a pet bird, whatever it is. And you caught a live bird. But there are two other birds you would rather have in a bush. If you attempt to get one of those two other birds, you’re probably going to lose the live bird you’re already holding. So it’s better to just keep the bird you have, then to lose what you have in the hope of getting something else.

Basically what you have in your possession is better than taking the chance of losing it to attain something else you don’t have.

Now this is just an English proverb that from my googling has been around since the 15th century. This is not a Biblical proverb. But it’s an example of the sort of thing that the proverbs are.

Today we’re going to look at a selection of Biblical Proverbs.

So please open your Bible to the book of Proverbs. It’s right after Psalms. If you’ll remember the trick to finding Psalms is just to open right in the middle of your Bible and then to get to Proverbs you’re just going to flip over to the next book.

[Give them a minute to get to the book of Proverbs. I highly suggest not giving them page numbers in the Bible. We’re trying to encourage Biblically literacy. It may take them several minutes to get to the right place depending on who is in the class.]

[For reading verses I generally start on one side of the room, pick the student immediately to my left, and then have them go around reading. So one student reads the first selection and then the next reads the next, etc]

Read Proverbs 1:1-7.

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

2 For learning about wisdom and instruction,
    for understanding words of insight,
3 for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
    righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to teach shrewdness to the simple,
    knowledge and prudence to the young—
5 let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
    and the discerning acquire skill,
6 to understand a proverb and a figure,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

This section is basically explaining why Solomon compiled the proverbs. He writes that he did it for a couple of reasons. First for learning and instruction. Solomon had wisdom and he wanted to pass down that wisdom to others, so that others could be wise. He then says the instruction is for wise dealing, for righteousness, for justice, and for equity—so that means instruction on how to do right, how to be just, and how to be fair.

He then goes on to say who the audience of the book is. It says for the simple—so basically to teach wisdom to people who aren’t very wise. Also for the young—that’s you guys!—and it uses the words knowledge and prudence. We’ve talked about before that the big difference between a teenager and an adult is wisdom. Sometimes teens even know more facts and pieces of information than their elders. But what older people have that teenagers don’t is life experience and wisdom. Solomon is saying that by compiling this book he’s basically helping jump start young people so they know that wisdom older people already have! But Solomon goes on to say that this book isn’t just for people without much knowledge or life experience, he’s saying that there is also something here for the wise to learn from. There is something for everyone at every walk of life to learn from the book of Proverbs.

And then the very first piece of wisdom that Solomon shares is verse 7. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Fearing God is not something we often talk about these days, but in this context fearing God just means respecting God and understanding his authority. Respecting God and knowing that he is the ultimate authority is the beginning of wisdom! That’s the first step. So if you already have that down then that’s like half the battle of becoming wise right there!

Let’s read the next two verses. Read Proverbs 1:8-9.

Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
    and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
9 for they are a fair garland for your head,
    and pendants for your neck.

This sort of teaching is repeated a lot through the proverbs. That its very important to remember and learn from the teachings of your parents. We’ve talked about this before in this class, but remember most parents have your best interests at heart. They want you to be the best you can be. They know that as kids you don’t have a lot of life experience—but they do. Your parents, believe it or not, were kids before. They’ve literally been in your shoes. And when they tell you not to do something or advise you towards a certain course of action, it’s because they don’t want you to make the mistakes they made. They know the pitfalls and issues that are on the path before you—because they’ve walked that path. They’re trying to teach you the wisdom and life experience they either learned from their parents or learned the hard way! That’s why it’s so important for us to listen to our parents—even when you’re adult! Your parents have walked the path before you and they teach you to help you.

Now that’s not to say that parents are always right or that every parent is a perfect parent. Sometimes parents make mistakes because they’re human to! But generally speaking your parents know what’s up and what they’re about.

Of course, this isn’t taking into account abusive parents. Solomon is talking in generalities here—he’s speaking about the average parent who loves their children and wants what’s best for them. Abusive parents are not wise and they’re not teaching their children wisdom, so that’s an entirely different subset that Solomon is not speaking to here.

Alright let’s continue looking at some of these Proverbs. Read Proverbs 3:5-7.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.” This is a very famous verse though in its most famous translation the second half says “and lean not on your own understanding.” As Solomon says in his introduction, the most important and wisest thing you can do is trust God. Your parents have your best interest at heart and give you the experience of their wisdom. God is like the uber-parent, the perfect parent. You think your parents love you? God loves you even more than that, and he wants you to know his wisdom and be able to flourish. That’s what Solomon is saying here, and that is the foundation of wisdom.

Now another famous one, read Proverbs 6:6-8.

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
    consider its ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief
    or officer or ruler,
8 it prepares its food in summer,
    and gathers its sustenance in harvest.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Maybe not the verses but the concept of the hard worker ant who prepares food for the summer? There is a fable about this right? The ant and grasshopper. Which is what the movie “A Bug’s Life” is based on. The ant works hard to sustain itself. While there is a queen ant it’s not like she’s a queen like a human queen. She doesn’t give direct orders. Ants work together for the betterment of the hive—without direction to do so. They collect food and provide because it’s necessary to survive, not because some boss is bossing them around.

That’s how we should work—at whatever our job or craft is. We should work diligently without having to have bosses or parents or leaders yell at us. We work hard at our jobs because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we need to do so to earn money so we can live and provide a home for our families and food for our tables. God says this sort of diligent work is good and wise.

Now someone read Proverbs 10:12.

Hatred stirs up strife,
    but love covers all offenses.

What does this mean? The Message version of the Bible interprets this verse as, “Hatred starts fights, but love pulls a quilt over the bickering.” Basically, it means that hating someone or something or acting in hatred is never the solution, it just makes things worse. But love, love can calm things down and build bridges. It’s sort of like Star Wars right—Hate leads to the dark side. But as we’ve discussed many times in this class, love is the answer, love is what Jesus commanded us to do. And love can calm things and sometimes even heal wounds. But hatred just leads to more hurt. That’s why Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and not to hate them. Hating our enemies just leads to an endless cycle of hatred—we hate them so they hate us so we hate them. But if we love, we end that cycle.

Read Proverbs 10:17.

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
    but one who rejects a rebuke goes astray.

This verse basically says we need to be able to handle taking instructions, criticism, and correction. That’s what rebuke means—we need to be able to handle people telling us we’re wrong. This is literally a life skill, one that is hard. It’s hard to accept criticism! It’s hard to listen to people tell us we’re wrong. But we’re all only human and sometimes we’re wrong. This is important at home, and at school, and at work. At home your parents correct you. At school your teachers do. And someday when you have a job you’ll have employee reviews where your bosses will tell you what you’re doing good and what you’re doing not so good, not to hurt you by pointing out what you’re doing wrong, but to help you so you can fix it and do better.

That’s why it’s important to be able to handle criticism. People correct us because they want us to do better, to be better. Your teacher doesn’t give you a bad grade because she hates you. She gives you a bad grade because your answers were wrong and she wants you to learn the right ones! Life is a learning process, and if we can’t accept those corrections, we’re never going to learn and we’re never going to become better people.

Someone read Proverbs 13:20.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
    but the companion of fools suffers harm.

The moral of this verse is that peer pressure is a very real things. If your friends are wise, they will give you wise advice and help you to stay on a wise path. Good friends prop each other up and lead each other to be better. But bad friends? Bad friends can lead you astray. This is why parents are often so concerned about who your friends are. They are worried that bad friends will take you down a bad path. It’s not because they hate you or hate your friends. It’s because they’re worried. If a friend is pressuring you to do wrong, your more likely to do the wrong thing then if you had friends who think doing that wrong thing is silly.

Now read Proverbs 14:29.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
    but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

This verse is pretty straightforward. It’s important to be slow to anger. A quick temper can result in a lot of bad things—it makes everyone around you defensive and upset. But staying calm—even in the face of other people losing their tempers—that helps keep things calm and if you maintain your cool you can talk to the person who is upset and learn what they’re truly upset about, and come to understand them better and maybe even address their issue.

Read Proverbs 14:31.

Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker,
    but those who are kind to the needy honor him.

Another one that seems pretty straightforward. Being kind and helping the poor honors God, while oppressing them is an insult to God. Really straightforward, and yet many people struggle with this. Oppression is alive and real in our world, something that happens all the time, and a lot of time it is rich people taking advantage of poor people.  If you ever find yourself in a position of power, as a Christian it’s our job to help the poor, to remember them, and not to make their situation worse.

Read Proverbs 16:2.

All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.

Have you guys ever heard the phrase that “everyone is the hero of their own story?” Basically, it means that even bad guys, even evil people, often think of themselves as in the right—as the hero. They think everything they’re doing is right, even when it’s not. That’s sort of what this verse is talking about. People—we can rationalize almost anything and any behavior. We can say we’re doing this wrong thing for the right reasons or doing this right thing—but it’s for the wrong reasons. What this verse is saying is it doesn’t matter what lies people tell themselves to convince themselves what they’re doing is right and good—even when it isn’t. God looks inside of us and at our spirit and he sees the truth, he sees our intent and he sees our true motivations. For good and for bad.

Okay now this next verse is really famous. Someone read Proverbs 16:18.

Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.

You’ll most commonly here people shorten this verse to “Pride comes before a fall.” Have you guys ever heard that before? Anyone have an idea what it means?

No matter how much you know, you’ll never know everything. And you’ll certainly never know more than God. When we get to the level of pride where we only trust in ourselves—and not God or others—and when we think we know everything and start refusing to listen to anyone else or ask advice or for help—that sort of pride often leads to us messing up big time, aka a fall. Because we are only humans. No matter how expert you get in your field, you will never know *everything.* In fact Albert Einstein said “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Albert Einstein was one of the smartest men in the last 100 years, and even he wasn’t prideful enough to say he knew everything.

Pride is addictive, we humans like to think we’re the best and that we know everything, but as we already read we’re not to lean on our own understanding. We’re to lean on God. And we need to keep that in perspective or else we can get ourselves in big trouble.

Another famous verse, someone read Proverbs 17:17.

A friend loves at all times,
    and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

A friend loves at all times. All times. Not just the good times, but also the really bad and horrible times. If you’re only someone’s friend when their life is good, you’re not really their friend. A friend is someone who will be with you through thick and thin, and will stick with you even when the going gets tough.

The second half of the verse uses some old-timey language and the Message translate it to, “families stick together in all kinds of trouble.” Basically, it’s the job of a family to stick with each other through hard times and prop each other up. To share each other’s pain and suffering. To life each other’s burdens so no one person gets overwhelmed.

This is a handful of verses we just looked at here, some of the more famous ones but certainly not all the famous ones or even a fraction of the wisdom Proverbs has to offer. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and we’ve barely skimmed the surface. The purpose of this lesson is not to be a deep dive into all of Proverbs but so you guys can be familiar with it and know what it has to offer. This is ancient wisdom, wisdom from like three thousand (ish) years ago, and it’s still applicable to our lives. Because times may have changed, but a lot of things about people haven’t.

We still have friends. We still have families. Children are still young and inexperienced. There is still poverty in our midst. There are still foolish people. And there are still rich people who refuse to help those beneath them. None of this has changed in the 3,000 years since this wisdom was compiled.

And that’s why we’re looking at it now. Because this is good wise stuff that can help you. Lean on God. Be slow to anger. Be there for your friends and family. Listen to your parents. This is still good advice.

And that’s Proverbs. A book of good advice. 

 

Translating the Bible

As you guys know we’ve been studying people of the Bible. However, there are a couple of books of the Bible in the middle of the Old Testament that have no people to showcase, because they are not books that describe the lives of people. They are poetry and wisdom books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs—also known as Song of Solomon. I think it’s important to stop at this point in our people of the Bible discussion because large portions of some of these books are thought to be written by David and Solomon—who we’ve spent a lot of the last year discussing.

So for the next little while we’re going to look at one of these books a week with the exception of Job. We’re actually going to come back to Job at some point and spend quite a bit of time there, but I think we’ll actually do that as our last book of the Old Testament—because I think the book of Job has a lot to tell us about God and I think we want to have it on our minds when we talk about Jesus. So for the next few weeks we’re going to look at Psalms, then we’ll look at Proverbs, and then the week after we’ll focus on Ecclesiastes.

But this week before we discuss these books of poetry we need to discuss something very important and that is the idea that the Bible is translated. So today we’re going to talk about Bible translations—what’s important, what’s not, why we prefer translations over others, and perhaps some warning signs that someone is using a translation wrong.

Does anyone know what language the Old Testament was written in? [Let them answer.]

Hebrew. Hebrew is the language of the Israelite people, and the language that the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Old Testament are written in. The New Testament on the other hand is written in Greek. If you’ll remember the Old and New Testaments were written at very different times. When the Old Testament was written is was for the Israelite people, so it used their language. When the New Testament was written, the writers used what was a more common tongue for the known world at that time—because they were trying to speak not just to Jewish people but also to people from other cultures. Greek was the most common language in that area of the world, which is why they used Greek.

Does anyone in this class speak Hebrew or Greek?

I don’t either. And even if you did speak modern Greek, Biblical Greek is a different dialectic, which basically means a slightly different version. So it would be hard for Modern Greek speakers to read Biblical Greek without taking a class to learn about Biblical Greek.

For a long time in human history, you had to know Hebrew or Greek to read certain parts of the scripture. In Jesus’ time, everyone who studied the Torah—that is the first five books of the Old Testament—would have been studying it in Hebrew. And even today modern Rabbis study Hebrew and learn to read the Old Testament in Hebrew. Our pastors also have often studied Hebrew and Greek so that they may better understand the original language of the Bible.

But you and me? We’re not Biblical scholars. We’re just average Christians who want to know what the Bible says! So we rely on English translations of the Bible.

In today’s modern age, there are a ridiculous number of English translations of the Bible. It’s amazing, but that wasn’t always the case. For a really long time, like I said you either had to know Greek or Hebrew, or Latin. Now the Bible wasn’t written in Latin, but in around 300 AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the Romans spoke Latin. So the Roman Emperor had the Bible translated into Latin. For a really long time, that Latin version of the Bible was considered the only official version of the Bible and you were not allowed to translated it into any other language. So if you were German, you would go to church on Sunday and hear the local priest read from the Bible in Latin, and you may not understand what he’s saying at all.

These were the Middle Ages, and things were very different back then.

Eventually a priest named Martin Luther in the 1500s said, “that doesn’t really make sense. I’m German! I want to read the Bible in German!” As a priest he knew how to read the Bible in Latin and what it meant, so he created a translation of the Bible into his local German (in history classes they’ll call this “venacular” to translate something into the vernacular is to translate it into your local language.)

Does anyone in the class speak two languages or have you ever studied another language? [Let them answer]

You may have noticed that it’s really hard to directly translate things between languages. Sometimes direct translations simply don’t convey the same meaning. So translating isn’t as simple a task as finding the same word in the dictionary and directly translating it over. A silly example is: what do you say after someone sneezes?

In English we say “God bless you.” Sometimes you might hear someone use the German word, gesundheit. Gesundheit does not mean “God bless you.” It means “health.” Because you’re basically wishing the person who just sneezed good health. In French you say “a tes souhaits,” (pronounce: ah te sway”) which means basically “as you wish.”

If I were a French translator, translating a book from French to English and someone in the book sneezed and someone responded “a tes souhaits,” I would not translate that as “as you wish” even though that is the direct translation of the word. Because an English reader wouldn’t read that and say, “that’s just a standard response to sneezing.” They would read “As you wish” and say “huh, that’s weird. Why did the character just say that?” So a good translator would actually translate “a tes souhaits” to “God bless you” even though that’s not what it means.

Translating between languages is really weird like that. It’s not just about directly translating words. You’re trying to translate meanings. Therefore any translation actually introduces a bit of interpretation, and as we’ve talked about before interpretation can be subjective.

How can interpretation be subjective? Well let’s take another easy example. The sentence: He said he didn’t steal it.

How do you interpret this sentence? What does it mean? [Let them answer.]

Now what if I said “He said he didn’t steal it.”

Now what does it mean? [Let them answer] Basically it would mean this guy is saying it was stolen but he wasn’t the one who stole it.

What about “He said he didn’t steal it.” What does that mean? [Let them answer.] Yeah! He’s saying he didn’t steal that item, but the probably stole something else.

That’s one seemingly straightforward sentence that depending on how I said it had different meaning. Representing it in modern writing, you can capture this emphasis with italics or bold or underline, but Biblical writers didn’t have concepts like italics or underlining! They just wrote words and hoped the way they wrote them conveyed what they meant!

This is why there is so much in the Bible that can be taken as a matter of interpretation. Even if we’re all looking at the exact same translation we might disagree on what the words mean!

Now back to this idea of translation: Because the Bible is not written in English, every version of the Bible that you can read is going to be a translation. The translation we use regularly in this class is the New Revised Standard Version. This is actually the version used in a lot of academic settings. The NRSV translation is made by a committee of thirty Biblical scholars—men and women--from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Jewish backgrounds. This is why it’s so widely respected. Having such a diverse group who all greatly respect the authority of the Bible and want to make sure they are true in their translation means we’re less likely to introduce bias or inaccuracies in how it’s translated.

Another version of the Bible that occasionally gets brought up in this class is the King James Version—because we have a couple of copies. This is the version that has all the “thee’s” and “thou’s” in it and reads to us modern readers more like Shakespeare and is harder for us to make heads or tails of. The King James Version is important because for a long time it was the only version of the Bible available in English. Unfortunately, since it was translated in 1611, there are some poor translation choices. Some of that is just because scholars in 1611 didn’t know as much as scholars today. Some of it is just how the English language has changed—so though a turn of phrase would have made perfect since in 1611 it no longer makes sense now. However, the King James Version did do one thing right, and that is that it made things that are poetic sounds poetic. Sometimes in our more modern translations we lose a bit of the poetry.

This is why some people when it comes to Psalms, actually prefer to memorize the King James Version of the Psalm, because to our modern ears it just sounds more poetical, even if it’s sometimes a little harder to understand than the NRSV.

These are not the only two English translations of the Bible. Far from it. Growing up, my churches mostly use the New International Version (NIV). For more personal study I like the New American Standard Bible (NASB). I’m also fond of the English Standard Version (ESV). I think all together I have nine English translations of the Bible and one French one.

One version of the Bible that I have that we’re going to reference in the next couple of weeks that we don’t normally use in this class is called “The Message.” This version of the Bible isn’t really considered a translation so much as an interpretation. A modern pastor thought the Bible was sometimes a little too hard to read for all the people he led and so he broke it down into more modern language. This Bible is less for the purpose of academic study and more for the purpose of breaking things down.  A lot of modern Bibles like to pretend that they’re pure translations with no interpretation—which as we’ve discussed is literally impossible, the act of translation introduces interpretation. However, the Message is very clear that it is an interpretation, it’s trying to interpret the Bible into modern language. Sometimes when we read the New Testament—especially the letters by Paul, it’s all run on sentences and confusing vocabulary and philosophy that’s sometimes hard for scholars to understand. The Message breaks it all down into easy to read sentences and uses the Message’s interpretation to break down the meaning into what the writer of the Message thinks Paul is trying to say. This is why it’s not necessarily recommended for academic study, because the writer of the Message could have gotten his interpretation wrong, but it is a very useful tool for if you’re stumped at even how to read the sentence!

The Bible was written a really long time ago and therefore the grammar used by the writers is completely different from what we use today. For example, there was no such thing as punctuation back then! No periods to tell you when the sentence was over! Which is why today it all reads like run on sentences. The Message version of the Bible tries to eliminate that confusion by making everything as close to modern English as the writer can while still getting across what the writer of the Message thinks is the meaning of the text.

Let’s look at some differences between these versions of the Bible! Someone grab one of the King James Versions. Let’s turn to a verse we should all know in this class: John 3:16.

Someone please read the King James Version:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life

Okay now someone read the NRSV.  

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Alright and now I’ll read the Message version:

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

You can see that generally all these verses have the same gist. God loved the world so he gave us Jesus so no one would die but everyone would live! It’s just they use slightly different words like “only begotten Son” versus “only Son” versus just “his Son.” Or using “perish” versus “destroy.” These words for the most part mean the same thing and reading this we should all be like “Yeah that seems pretty solid. We understanding the meaning of this verse.”

Okay now let’s try the same thing, still in John, but a little more complicated. Someone read John 14:16 in the NRSV:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[a] to be with you forever. 

Okay the word I want you to pay attention to here is Advocate. Can someone tell me what Advocate means? [Let them answer.]

When I looked it up google said it means “a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf” or “a pleader in a court of law, a lawyer.” So you can think of an Advocate like a lawyer.

Now do you guys see the little letter g in the your NRSV Bibles next to the word “Advocate?” That means there is a footnote. So you can look at the bottom of the page, where there is little writing, and see what it reads next to the g. Can someone read that?

g Or Helper.

What this footnote is saying is that this version of the Bible chose to translate whatever Greek word the Greek text used as Advocate but that Helper would also be a good definition of the world. Do Helper and Lawyer mean the same thing?

Sort of I guess in the sense that your lawyer should be helping you. But a Helper verses a lawyer have very different connotations. An Advocate makes people think of someone powerful who helps you, who argues on your behalf powerfully to get your out of trouble, where the connotation of a helper is more like…someone who just helps out on occasion.

Let’s see what word the King James Version uses. Someone please read John 14:16 in the KJV Bible:

16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

What word is used here? Comforter!

A comforter is a person who gives you comfort in hard times. That doesn’t make you think of a lawyer defending you in court or someone helping you out. That makes you think of someone patting you on the back saying “there, there.”

Comforter, Advocate, Helper…these words all seem to be different. So what is Jesus saying? What he is actually saying God is going to give us here?

Let’s see what the Message says.

“I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you.”

So now we have Advocate, Helper, Comforter, and Friend. So what is Jesus actually saying?

Well I didn’t really give you guys a lot of context here, we didn’t read the verses around it, but Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. You guys may recall that we believe God exists in three parts: God the Father, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. This section of the Bible is Jesus telling the disciples not to worry because after Jesus dies, they will not be left alone. They will get the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word being used here is “Parakletos” or “paraclete.” The truth is that this is a hard word to translate. What makes this word hard? Well it’s not like people made English to ancient Greek dictionaries back in the day, mostly because English didn’t exist when the Bible was written. When modern translators don’t know what a word means they try to find other ancient texts from the same time period that use the same word, so that they can use context clues to determine it’s meaning. There are a couple of other texts from the time, one from a Greek orator named Demosthenes that uses the same word. And I think this is a case where Advocate and Helper are probably the closest meaning, and “Comforter” is a bit farther off.

But the truth is all of these words can be used to describe the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the part of God that is still here active in us and active on this earth. It is our Advocate—interceding on our behalf in circumstances and events. It is our Helper—helping us when times get hard or when we don’t feel strong enough. It is our Comforter—comforting us in the darkness to let us know God is with us and we’re not alone. And it is our Friend—just as Jesus was the Friend of the twelve disciples. Using all of these words, all of these translations, gives us a fuller understanding of what the Holy Spirit is.

What is the point of all of this? Why is this important?

I think the lesson and the warning here, is that if anyone ever gives a sermon or a lesson or an interpretation that hinges on the meaning of one specific word in English and claim that is the only meaning of the word, you should be skeptical and look into it yourself. Because the Bible was not written in English. Advocate, Helper, Comforter, these are all legitimate translations of paraclete, so if someone gives a whole sermon on how the Holy Spirit is only a comforter, they are wrong.

There is a good historical example of this. I say historical, but this is something being used even now to subjugate women around this world. Can the person with the King James Bible read Genesis 2:18:

18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

God looked at man and said it’s not good for him to be alone, let me make him a “help meet”—that is woman. What does help meet mean?

Someone read the NRSV version.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

Helper, okay that makes a little more sense to us. Let me make man a helper.

Helper is actually what most Bible translations use. This word has been used over the centuries to tell women that they are lesser to men. Only, merely a helper. This term “help-meet” has been used to say that women are merely meant to exist in subordinate or helping roles to their husbands.

I’m going to read a quote now from a theologian named Rachel Held Evans that explains more what the actual Hebrew word is here.

The phrase “helper suitable,” rendered “help meet” in the King James Version, comes from a combination of the words ezer and kenegdoFar from connoting subjugation, the Hebrew term ezer, or “helper,” is employed elsewhere in Scripture to describe God, the consummate intervener—the helper of the fatherless (Psalm 10:14), King David’s helper and deliverer (Psalm 70:5), Israel’s shield and helper (Deuteronomy 33:29). Ezer appears twenty-one times in the Old Testament—twice in reference to the first woman, three times in reference to nations to whom Israel appealed for military support, and sixteen times in reference to God as the helper of Israel.

So “ezer” is used to describe God, so God is described as Israel’s helper and David’s helper, does that mean God is subordinate to Israel or David? No. God is far greater than Israel or David. Now I’m not saying women are greater than men because when you combined “ezer” with “kenegdo” you get “helper of the same nature.” Basically “helper on the same level” or…in modern lexicon….basically a partner.

A partner is your equal, but you and your partner—whether that’s your best friend, our a group project or a business partner—you’re both invested in helping each other to be the best you can be, invested in your group project or your business or your relationship to make it the best it can be.

Man and woman are both made in the image of God, made as equals, but made to work together as partners.

Because the word “helper” has been used to translate this Hebrew phrase of “ezer kenedgo,” though, theologians have historically used it as an excuse to tell women they are less.

This is why it’s important to remember that everything is a translation influenced by interpretation and perspectives. In the hands of a biased person trying to prove the point, a translation can be tweaked through word choices and phrase choices to make a theological point the original text may not intend.

No one expects every Christian to be a theological scholar. Heck, there is no test on the Bible when you die to see if you’re theology is correct so you can go into heaven. There is no such thing. Christians were Christians even when they were illiterate with no access to the Bible. I just want you guys to be aware of these things so when you’re studying the Bible and confused by a word choice, you know there are other translations and resources you can go to in order to help you figure out what it means. Because humans translated the Bible and in the hands of some humans, those English word choices can become weapons against people.

Never trust a theologian or pastor—someone who is supposed to be an expert on these things—whose entire interpretation hinges on one English word without going back to the Hebrew or Greek.

Do feel comfortable enough to question things and seek out answers for yourself.

And also know it’s okay to not be a Bible expert. Because all it takes to be a Christian is to follow Jesus.  And what did Jesus say the greatest commandment was? The most important thing. The thing that ultimate it takes to consider yourself a follower of Jesus and God?

We keep going back to these verses and that’s because it’s important. Someone read Matthew 22:36-40.

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love God. Love your neighbor.

That’s it. Love God. Love people. Be love in the world. That’s all it takes to be a Christian. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar. You just have to be love in the world.

I teach you these things about Bible translations and sometimes church history not because it’s necessary for you to call yourself a Christian, but because this is Sunday School and I’m trying to prepare you for the world and the sorts of questions you may have one day—or now—that cause you to question your faith. It’s always okay to ask questions and seek answers.

But it’s also okay to just sit back and say “you know, I don’t know the answer. But I do know I’m supposed to love people.”

And really that’s all that matters.

 

Crash Course in Lent

Today we’re taking a break from our discussion of King David, because today we’re going to talk about the part of the church calendar that just started: Lent. Today we’re going to talk about what is Lent? What exactly do Christians do during Lent and how can you guys as youth celebrate Lent or not.

This is going to be a basic crash course in Lent. We will study all of this in far more detail when we study Jesus next year. But for now at a high level let’s talk about Lent.

At it’s most basic level Lent is very similar to Advent, in that Advent is how we count down to Christmas and Lent is how we countdown to Easter. However, other than they are both countdowns the two events are quite different. Advent is full of hopeful looking forward. Lent tends to be a little more serious.

As we studied at Christmas, the word “Advent” comes from Latin and basically means waiting for an arrival. So what does Lent mean?

Well it certainly doesn’t mean the same thing as dryer lint. In fact church lint is spelled differently, it’s L-E-N-T. Turns out lent is a shortened form of an Old English word, “Lencten” which means “springtime” or “spring.” Turns out there is also some connection to some old German words and Middle Dutch that are similar that also seem to refer to spring and the lengthening of days during spring. So Lent means Spring, which is also when Easter takes place. But it sure doesn’t make Lent seem like a special word, if it just means springtime.

Generally Lent takes place in very early spring, starting in February and ending in March or April. So you can imagine that early Christians were talking about springtime and this church event was always taking place in springtime so the two words over time just slowly became synonymous.

So why does the start of Lent and the date of Easter change every year? Does anyone know?

Well the date of Easter is dependent on the date of Passover. And Passover’s date is dictated by the Jewish calendar. In America and in a lot of world we used what is called “the Gregorian calendar.” That’s the calendar we use for every year that has the months we know, has leap ear, and all of that kind of stuff. But Judaism has its own calendar, the Hebrew calendar. Your average Jewish person is going to use the Gregorian calendar for their regular lives—work and school—but the Hebrew calendar dictates when the major Jewish holidays will be, including Passover.

Because the Hebrew calendar and Gregorian calendar don’t line up exactly, the date of Passover shifts within the Gregorian calendar.

But Christians didn’t like to be dependent on Jewish people for the date of Easter. They didn’t like to have to wait for Rabbi’s to declare when Easter is. So Christians dictated their own way of calculating when Easter should be. It’s all very complicated, and difficult to follow. It has to do with the first full moon after the equinox. If you’re really interested in it, you can google it and figure out all about calendars.

Generally, Easter is going to be the Sunday after Passover. At least that’s the generally accepted date for Western churches—like ours. “Orthodox” Churches, which is a different denomination of Christianity, have their own system for calculating when Easter is. Which makes everything more complicated because now there are two dates out there floating around for Easter.

Who’s right? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what date we celebrate Easter. The point of Easter is to commemorate Jesus’s resurrection. And whatever day you do that on, what matters is remembering and commemorating that, not that we have the date perfectly right.

Okay so Lent means spring literally but that doesn’t tell us what it means in a church sense.

Lent is the lead-up to Easter. You’ll hear people talk about the “forty days” of Lent. 40 is a Biblically important number. During the story of Noah’s ark, the flood lasted forty days and night. The Israelites wandered in the desert for the forty years. The prophet Elijah walks for 40 days and 40 nights. The number 40 was chosen for Lent because of Jesus. Please get your Bibles and open to Matthew 4:1-11.

While you guys flip there, some context. This takes place right before Jesus starts his ministry. So for most of his life, Jesus lived like just a normal dude, a carpenter’s son in Galilee. But eventually Jesus needed to start his ministry—that is start preaching and reaching out to people and telling them who he was. To prepare for this, Jesus goes into the wilderness to fast. Now someone please read Matthew 4:1-2.

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished

Jesus goes into the desert and he fasts for forty days and forty nights. Then at the end of that time, he is tempted by the devil. And we’ll study that story in more detail when we eventually study Jesus. But for now, the important part for Lent, is that in order to prepare for his ministry, in order to prepare for starting everything, Jesus felt the need to go into the desert and fast.

What is fasting? Fasting is basically giving up food for a while and replacing it with prepare. It’s a pretty common practice in the Old Testament for leaders or people to fast as part of holiday or before making big decision. Sometimes fasting is just not eating food during daylight hours, but then you can eat at night. And sometimes fasting means not eating at all. The idea is that you would replace all that time you would normally spend eating with prayer, and focusing on God.

So Jesus prepared for his ministry for forty days and nights, forty days of fasting. And that’s kind of the basic idea of Lent, fasting like Jesus for forty days. Except the generally accepted practice of Lent doesn’t involve fasting from food. Forty days is a long time, and I don’t think any churches expect people to not eat during that time. Instead the general practice has become that people would abstain or fast from one particular food type or other thing.

[Direction to leader: Give example of a time when you gave up something for Lent] For me, in the past I’ve given up soft drinks, particularly Coke, for Lent. I love Coca Cola and soft drinks. And then every time I craved a soft drink during Lent, it would make me think “Oh I’m not supposed to be drinking this because of Lent.” And then it would make me think about God and Jesus and Easter. In the middle of my work day, when normally I’d be drinking a Coke, I was instead thinking about God.

And that’s the purpose of this. That’s the purpose of giving something up. It helps you focus on God.

We’re supposed to spend our time during Lent reflecting on God, and reflecting on the sacrifice of Black Friday and the joy of Easter.

Let's brainstorm some things we can give up for Lent. Realistic things. You can’t give up things you have to do: like school or sleep or homework. But we can give up our excesses and use that time to focus on God and the amazing gift he has given us in Jesus Christ.

[Brainstorm on the board some idea!]

So Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, which in our case was this past Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday people come to church and reflect on repentance and forgiveness. Often ashes are placed on people’s forehead in the shape of the cross. Why ashes? Why do we do this?

Someone please read Genesis 2:7. This is from the story of the creation, and how God created Adam.

7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,[a] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Okay can someone now read Genesis 3:19?

By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”

This verse comes from the story of Adam and Eve. It’s after Adam and Eve take the apple and during the part where God is telling them what their punishment will be. So in the first verse, it says that God made man from dust. That he shaped the dust and breathed life into it. Here in this punishment section, God reminds Adam he is made of dust, and that in the end “to dust you shall return.” Basically, that he will die, that because of sin, all men will die and return to dust.

Ash Wednesday is to remind us of that.

This is a really somber and dark thought. Ash Wednesday is basically this reminder of “hey you’re going to die.” It was funny because this year Ash Wednesday was Valentine’s Day, and one of my pastor friends said, that when people have to asked for his Valentine’s Day plans he would say, “I have to work and remind everyone of their inevitable deaths.”

So where Christmas Advent is all hope coming out of the darkness, Lent instead starts with this dark reminder that “hey you’re going to die someday.”

Why so somber? Well Lent is about repentance and fasting and preparation for the coming of Jesus’s death and resurrection. It’s natural that when thinking about how Jesus died for us, we would think about our own deaths.

So Ash Wednesday kicks Lent off and then it goes on for presumably forty days, right?

Weirdly no. We say the forty days of Lent, but that forty days only counts non-Sundays. So Sundays don’t count, meaning Lent is actually 46 days. And the next big day of Lent is Palm Sunday, which is the sixth Sunday of Lent.

Palm Sunday is all about Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus comes to Jerusalem for Passover, the week before his death, and this is at the very end of his ministry so everyone knows who is he and Jesus is just this superstar. Everyone wants to see him and touch him and be near him. Though they don’t necessarily understand who he is. They’ve just heard about the amazing things he’s done, the miracles.  Someone read Luke 19:36-40.

36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

When we talk about Palm Sunday in church it’s usually from two perspectives. First off they focus on that Jesus is worthy of praise and deserved the praise that people were giving him when he came to that city. Frankly that’s how Jesus should have been greated every time he entered the city. And when some people in the crowd told Jesus that he shouldn’t let people praise him so, he told them if they were silent the very rocks on the earth would cry out praises. Because Jesus is God and all of creation calls out to God’s greatness.

However, the second thing pastors often focus on during Palm Sunday is that these people who are praising Jesus? These people who are crying out his goodness and that he is king, they are the very same people who betray him little more than a week later.

People are fickle, meaning their loyalties change quickly and easily, especially when someone doesn’t meet the expectation they thought. These people who were praising Jesus? They were expecting him to come in and overthrow the status quo, to make a new Jerusalem now, where Rome no longer controlled them. But that’s not why Jesus was there. And when Jesus failed to meet their expectation, they turned on him. And they called for his death.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of what people call “Holy Week.” This is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

The Thursday of Holy Week is called “Maundy Thursday” which sounds kind of like “Monday Thursday.” But it’s Maunday. Maunday Thursday commemorates the Last Supper. Someone read Luke 22:7-16.

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus[a] sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” 9 They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” 10 “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” 13 So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[b] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

The reason why Jesus comes to Jerusalem and has his triumphal entry in the first place is so that he can celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. This was really common that Jewish people would come to Jerusalem and celebrate Passover there. So Jesus has his disciples go find a room for them there to celebrate in. They find a room upstairs, this is often translated as “the Upper Room.” When people at this church call the room where the high schoolers have Sunday School “the Upper Room” that’s a pun on this room where Jesus shared a last Passover with his disciples.

Every Gospel—Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John—tell this story. A story of Jesus sharing one last meal with his closest friend and giving them a commandment that we still commemorate as Communion. But Maundy Thursday is not all about intimate dinner with friends. That very night after the dinner, Jesus is betrayed and arrested.

The next day of Holy Week is Good Friday. Now I always thought it was weird as a kid that we called it Good Friday because Good Friday is the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. What’s good about Jesus’s death? So I actually googled this, and I think this goes back to very old English uses of the word “good.” In oldish English, “Good” can just mean “a day or season observed as holy by the church.” So it’s not that Good Friday is a particularly happy day, it’s that this is a very holy day.

Jesus death is a very somber thing, but it is a critical aspect of our faith.

Can someone read Matthew 27:45-51?

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land[a] until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”[b50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.[c51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Jesus dies and at the very moment he dies, the veil in the temple is torn. We’ve talked about this before, but in the Temple—the place that was basically considered God’s home on earth—only certain people were allowed to go to certain places. Most Jewish people could enter the courtyard, but only priests could go inside and only the highest of priests could enter the holy of holies—the place where they said the spirit of God dwelled. In Old Testament times, that’s where the Ark of the Covenant would have been, but by Jesus’s time the ark is already missing.

This veil that splits, is the veil between the holy of holies and the rest of the temple, and this represents that with Jesus’s death, there is no barrier anymore. It’s not only the holy of holies where God dwells. He dwells everywhere. And we can all have access to him.

So yes Jesus’s death is sad and tragic—he didn’t deserve to die—but for us there is freedom. Because for Jesus death is not the end. And that’s why we have Easter Sunday. Because Easter Sunday is the next Sunday after Good Friday, and that’s the Sunday where we celebrate Jesus being raised from the dead.

Now when I was your age, I used to get really confused because everyone would say Jesus was dead for three days. And I would be like “well Good Friday is Friday and Easter is only two days later. How is that three days?” So we’ve talked about this a little before, but the Roman calendar didn’t work like ours. When we count how many days there are until something we don’t count the day we’re on. So if you’re doing something on Wednesday, you would say it’s only three days away, because today is Sunday and you would count Monday, Tuesday ,Wednesday—that’s three days. But in Roman times, you would count the day you were on. So that would be Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, four days.

So when the Bible says Jesus was dead for three days, they’re counting Friday. So it’s Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Three Roman days between Good Friday and Easter. But then it’s Easter Sunday. And I’m sure you guys already know what that’s all about.

Easter is the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

Can someone read Matthew 28:1-8.

28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

In this time period, after someone died, they would treat the body with oils. We don’t do that now because we have embalming techniques they didn’t know about—ways to preserve the body. Normally women would apply these spices and oils to the body right after death. But in Jesus’ case they couldn’t do that because Jesus died right before the Sabbath—the day Jewish people aren’t supposed to work. They barely had time to take the body away and put it in a tomb. Because the Sabbath starts on sundown of Friday. Sunday morning would be the first time they would be able to actually apply the oil and spices to Jesus’s body.

So early Sunday morning, these women go to the tomb. And instead of finding a body that’s already started to decay and smell bad, they find an angel who tells them that Jesus isn’t there that he has been raised from the dead and that they need to go tell everyone.

We talked about this a few weeks ago, but it’s actually amazing that God chose to reveal Jesus’s resurrection to women first. Women were not considered believable witnesses back in the day, they were not trusted. And in fact, as soon as they women go and tell the disciples, they don’t believe them, and the men go to check out the situation for themselves. They basically think the women are hysterical and making things up.

But God revealed Jesus’s resurrection to these women first, and made them the first ones to share the good news.

And this is the good news. Jesus’s resurrection is literally the linchpin of all of Christianity.

Someone read 1 Corinthians 15:14.

14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.

The book of Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul and here Paul says in no uncertain terms, “if Christ has not been raised from the death, then our faith is in vain.” What does that mean? When someone says something is “in vain.” In vain means “without success or result.” Basically, what Paul is saying here is that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead—if that’s not true—then Christianity is not true.

All of our belief and our faith hinges on this very fact, that Jesus was raised from the dead. Not by any person, but by himself—by God—because he is God.

Christmas is a great and fun holiday where we talk about hope and light in the darkness, but Easter—Easter is why Christianity exists. It’s what our faith is about. And that’s why Lent and Easter are so important. Jesus was raised from the dead for us, to bring us salvation.

Someone please read Galatians 2:19-20.

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is another book of the Bible written by the apostle Paul. And here Paul is talking about how it is through Jesus’s death and resurrection that we have hope, that we have faith, that we have life.

This is what Easter is about. Celebrating our new lives in Christ, about how God loved us so much that he sent his Son to save us. And that’s why we spend so long preparing for Easter, for putting ourselves in the right mindset.

That said, there is no Biblical mandate to fast for Lent. There is no mandate that says you must do this. I don’t fast from something every year. But doing it is a great tool for us to put our hearts and minds in the right frame so we can appreciate what God has done for us.

The Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Temple

Note: I made a powerpoint to accompany this lesson, so I could show the class what some of these things looked like. Instead of uploading the powerpoint, I will link to the images I used in this. 

Last week we talked about the Law. Today I want to discuss something that goes hand-in-hand with that and you guys had a lot of questions about last week. That is, the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and the Temple.

These three things basically all represent the same thing: God’s presence among the people of Israel. Basically physical facilities that could remind the people of their covenant with God and also be a way for people to worship God. To fully explore that we’re going to have to talk about what each of these things is, starting with the Ark of the Covenant.

So what is the Ark of the Covenant? Get your Bibles and let’s turn to Exodus 25:10-22.

10 They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a molding of gold upon it all around. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry the ark. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the covenant that I shall give you.

17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other; of one piece with the mercy seat you shall make the cherubim at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat[e] with their wings. They shall face one to another; the faces of the cherubim shall be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.

These are God’s instructions to the Israelites on how to build the Ark of the Covenant. Also if you’re wondering what a mercy seat is, it’s basically the lid. I don’t really know why they call it that.This may be hard to follow and imagine so fortunately for you I brought a visual! [Slide 2] I know some of you have seen this movie. This is Raiders of the Lost Ark. In that movie, the lost ark they are looking for is the Ark of the Covenant. And we’ll talk about later why it’s a lost ark, and not something we still have. For this movie, they actually made a fairly accurate replica based on that section we just read. 

So this is what it looks like but what is the Ark of the Covenant? It’s basically like a big chest or piece of luggage. Except that in those verses we just read God said he will appear above the angels in the ark and from their deliver his commandments to Israel. So God is going to appear above this Ark! That’s pretty cool.

The other thing is implied in it’s name: the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a visible and physical reminder of the covenant yes, but it also contains the covenant. Can someone read Exodus 40:20?

20 He took the covenant and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy seat above the ark;

Basically the stone tablets on which Moses wrote God’s words and brought down from the mountain? They put those in the ark of the covenant. So the actual words, the physical contract more-or-less, is in the Ark of the Covenant.

But it’s not the only thing in there.

Can someone read Exodus 16:33-34?

33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping.

They place a jar of manna in with the covenant. An “omer” is just a Hebrew unit of measurement. Why did they put it in there? I think because God wanted them to have a physical reminder of how he cared for them for their time in the desert, how God literally fed them. So when they doubted God’s power or love, they could see that and think “Oh yeah, remember that time God literally fed us with manna from heaven?”

The last item in the Ark of the Covenant is described in Numbers 17. As you flip there, some context. Basically, one of the Hebrews had enough of Moses and Aaron’s leadership. He was like “Why do these old dudes get to lead us? Aren’t we all equal before God? Why do we have to listen to them? They just want to control us!”

And basically Moses was like “Well, we’ll let God decide who should lead.”

So God told Moses to have each tribe elect someone they wanted to lead them. Then they would present a staff—like a wooden walking staff—with that man’s name carved in it. For the Levites that was Aaron. And God said he would one of them bud—so basically one of these dead staffs of wood would suddenly start having stuff grow on it, something only God could do. Whoever’s staff budded would get to lead.

Can someone read Numbers 17:8-11?

8 When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 9 Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; and they looked, and each man took his staff. 10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the covenant, to be kept as a warning to rebels, so that you may make an end of their complaints against me, or else they will die.” 11 Moses did so; just as the Lord commanded him, so he did.

So it was Aaron’s staff that sprouted, Aaron that God chose. And to remind them of that, God instructed Moses to place the budded staff in the Ark of the Covenant, to remind them that God chose Aaron to be the leader.

This section also mentions the tent of the covenant. What is that? Well, remember during this time the Hebrews are wandering through the desert. They have no place to call home. They have no unmoving temple or church they can go to. The Ark was basically the heart of their mobile church, and that mobile church—which those verses called the tent of the covenant—is usually referred to as the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle is basically a church tent. [Slide 3 ]. Remember the Hebrews are nomads at this point. They do get to the Promised Land, but because they were scared to go inside, they have to wander for 40 years. So for 40 years they’re wandering in the desert. During that time they have this portable temple they can use where they can go worship God and make sacrifices.

The Tabernacle is described in detailed in Exodus 25-31. This includes descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant, which is placed in the tabernacle when it’s set up, to the dimensions of the tent, to what exactly the priests had to wear. [Slide 4]

You can see here that the Ark of the Covenant is placed inside the Tabernacle behind a veil in the “Most Holy Place.” So imagine this set up like a tent that’s gated in. If you go through the gate you see an alter and a tent. If you go in the tent, you’re still separated from the most holy place by a veil. And behind that veil God would come in the form of smoke. Only certain people were allowed in these different parts. While some priests could enter the courtyard, they couldn’t enter the tent. Some could enter the tent, but most would not be allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest would be allowed to do that.

I want to be very clear on something here. The Tabernacle was more than a church. I’m sure you hear in church service and maybe from adults that a church is just a building. A church itself is no more or less holy than anything else. But the Tabernacle was different. The Tabernacle was where God dwelled.

And the same was true of the Temple.

You see the Tabernacle was basically a temporary measure while the people wandered and had no permanent home, while they were outside the Promised Land. Eventually—much later—when the Hebrews settled in Canaan and were established there, they built a Temple. [Slide 5: Image 1Image 2 and Image 3] We will get to this story much later, because it’s not built until King Solomon is King of Israel and we’re still pretty far away from that happening in our study.

You’ll hear this Temple referred to most often as Solomon’s Temple, but it can also be referred to as the First Temple or just the Temple. The temple had a very similar internal set up to the Tabernacle in that they were still varying levels of who was allowed well and in the innermost part was still the holy of holies behind a veil where the Ark of the Covenant was (Slide 6). This Temple was literally viewed as the place on earth where God lived.

Of course God was not just limited to the temple. God could and did speak to people outside of the Tabernacle and Temple. For one example of that let’s turn to an interesting story in Numbers.

In this story in Numbers, the context is basically that the Israelites have not yet entered the Promised Land but are wandering around in the area just east of the Jordan. They keep running into other people groups and for various reasons having to fight them. Basically to those other tribes, the Israelites look like a scary invading army who might try to take all their land. So they just kept having all these battles and because God was with them and on their side, they kept living.

There was this one guy named Balak who is basically the leader of a specific people group, and he is terrified of the Israelites coming in and destroying his people. So he decides his best bet is to call to the number one sorcerer in the land, a guy named Balaam.

Now Balaam actually thinks God is super powerful. Now when I say he believed in God I don’t want you to confuse him with someone who worshipped or loved God. Basically Balaam was a sorcerer who believed in many gods, and that they were all real, and that includes our God—the God of the Israelites. He also thought the God of the Israelites was super powerful, could defeat them all, and therefore didn’t want to go against him,

However, in the end his leader Balak pressures Balaam into coming to him anyway. God is not very happy about this situation. Alright can someone read Numbers 22:22-27?

22 God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 

So Balaam is heading out and riding his donkey. And because God wants his anger at Balaam and his king to be known—because his king basically wants Balaam to curse God’s chosen people—God puts an angel in his way three times. Each time the donkey sees the angel but Balaam doesn’t. So the donkey turns off the road, or runs into a wall, or finally just cowers where she is so that they don’t run into what must be a terrifying angel.

Balaam doesn’t see the angel. He just thinks his donkey is being willful and disobedient. So he just keeps beating her trying to make her move on.

Can someone read Numbers 22:28-31?

28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” 30 But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face.

God makes it so the donkey can speak! That’s pretty miraculous! And she’s like “Why do you keep beating me?” And instead of dying of shock like I would of, Balaam instead says, “Because you keep messing up! And I’m so angry I might kill you.” And then the donkey is basically like “When have I ever failed you before?” And Balaam is forced to concede the point that—well—she’s been a good donkey.

Then God opens Balaam’s eyes and he sees the angel! And he’s terrified and falls to the ground before this angel.

Now can someone read Numbers 22:32-35?

32 The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.” 35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak.” So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.

The Angel is basically like “if your donkey hadn’t stopped you I would have killed you. So your donkey saved your life.” And Balaam realizes that God must really not want him to go. But really God could’ve killed Balaam at any moment. He didn’t have to let the donkey see the angel to stop him from running into it. He didn’t have to let the donkey talk. And he certainly didn’t have to let the angel explain himself. But God chooses to do these things because he’s trying to teach this foreign sorcerer about him so when Balaam goes before his king he’ll refuse to raise a hand against the Israelites.

In the end Balaam goes to his king and he speaks God’s words to the king.

So why are we talking about in this story? Well because in this story God uses a donkey to speak to a foreign sorcerer. He then uses that foreign sorcerer to speak to his king. God can and does use anything and anyone to speak to people. He did then during the time of Moses and he does now. So why all this business with the Tabernacle and Temple where only certain people were allowed to go in to see God?

Because they were different. They meant something different. The Tabernacle and Temple were like God’s home on Earth, a place he would always be and where you could visit him. They were physical reminders of God and his constant presence on this earth.  

In the end, Solomon’s temple was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians. During this event, it seems the Ark of the Covenant was lost. Possibly the Babylonians took it because we know from many verses in the Bible that they basically ransacked the Temple and took anything gold or worth money, and that would certainly include the ark. The ark is not explicitly mentioned as something the Babylonians took, however, so some people think that it might have been hidden away before the Babylonians reached the Temple. We may never know. This is why the Ark is referred to as the Lost Ark. Literally no one knows what happened to it or where it is.

A second temple was later built—and that is the temple that Jesus visited during his time on earth. [Slide 7] This temple was built during Old Testament times, lasted through Jesus’s time, and then was destroyed by the Romans in around 70 AD. This temple was built to be identical to the first, because the temples weren’t just built to be aesthetically pleasing. Like the ark and the Tabernacle, the instructions for the Temple are in the Bible and were required to be built in a specific way. The major difference between the first Temple and the second was that the Ark of the Covenant was not in the second temple.

The Wailing Wall (slide 8) is one of the few remaining bits of the Temple that still exists today. The Wailing Wall was the Western Wall of the Temple courtyard.

So why is there no new Temple? You would think that after World War II, when Israel was given back to the Jewish people—as a safe place they could go after the Holocaust, the first thing they would want to do is rebuild the temple, right? After all, without the temple they can’t make the sacrifices that are Biblically required of them. If you ever wonder why Jewish people don’t still make sacrifices, that is why. They must make sacrifices on the alter in the temple, and there is no temple today. Therefore, they can’t do this important act of their faith. So why don’t they rebuild the temple?

Well, because nothing is ever that simple. There are many Biblical requirements that must be followed to rebuild the Temple—many of which we can’t meet today. Such as the high priest being a descendant of Aaron. The alter must also be placed in the exact same physical location it was before, and we know longer know that to the same accuracy. But another big issue is the Dome of the Rock.

Do you guys see the gold dome in that picture? That is the Dome of the Rock. It is one of the holy sites of Islam. Many people believe that the Dome of the Rock is built where the Temple originally was. So to rebuild the Temple in the exact same place would require it being moved, and that would be an act of war. (Note: Emphasize that this is NOT because of any stereotypical view they may have of Muslims, but rather because knocking down someone's holy site is just really really not cool. That site is holy in Islam and therefore must be treated as such. And to knock it down would be the equivalent of walking up to someone and punching them in the face and stabbing them in the back at the same time.)

Now some Jewish people believe that there will be a Third Temple. That a Messiah will come who will be able to negotiate all the political differences, sniff out the true location of the alter, and who is of the bloodline of Aaron. This Messiah might be Elijah come back or Moses or some other such thing. Not all Jewish people believe this, because Judaism is a diverse faith where people interpret things differently.

And this idea of a Third Temple and the Messiah coming is not all that far off from what Christians believe. We believe Jesus is the Messiah, but when Jesus first came the Temple still existed. Islam didn’t yet exist as a religion. There was no dispute to be settled. However, the book of Revelations points to a second coming of Jesus. Is it possible that when Jesus comes back the temple will be rebuilt? It’s definitely possible. There are things in the Bible that point to the presence of a third temple to come.

However, it’s not something we as Christians often think about or dwell on. Why? Why don’t we care about this place where God literally lived. You would think we’d want to rebuild God’s house? Right???

But when Jesus came to this earth and died and was resurrected everything changed.  I want you guys to turn to Mark 15:33-38. Remember Mark is in the New Testament and it’s the second Gospel.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

When Jesus died the veil was torn. (Turn back to slide 6). The veil, the thing that separated the part of the temple where God literally was from the rest of the temple, the rest of the world. Yes high priests could go back there, but even then, they didn’t do it very often. Just once a year to offer the highest sacrifices. Now that veil was torn.

Obviously God could move on either side of the veil if he wanted to, so what does this mean? It’s a symbol, a symbol of what Jesus just did. He brought down the separation between God and man. He was God among us, God made incarnate who walked among us and experienced everything we did. Now because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit we all have access to God all the time.

Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before “your body is a temple.” And I’m sure you’ve heard it in a glib way, that is basically just like “respect yourself and your body, your body is a temple.” But have you ever thought about that? Thought about what that means? Your body is a temple. The temple is the place where God lives. God lives in you. The Holy Spirit resides in all Christians. We don’t need to go to a special place to see God, we have God with us all the time. Each one of us is part of the Temple. God resides in each one of us. That’s why we need to respect our bodies and not defile them, because when you do that you are disrespecting God’s house.

We are the Body of Christ. We are God’s house. And that’s why to Christians the church is just the building. We are the church.

What is the Law?

For the past two months, we’ve been studying Moses. Over the last two weeks, we watched The Prince of Egypt, to help catch up the rising sixth graders, on the story of Moses. But that movie ends at a critical part. It ends with Moses coming down the mountain carrying down some tablets.

When Moses went up on that mountain—as we studied—he spoke to God for a long extended period of time—so long that the Israelites actually thought he might have died. But during that time God told him a lot of stuff. One of the most important things God gave him was the Law, which he wrote down on tablets to bring to his people.

When we studied Moses we kind of skipped over what exactly was on those tablets, what it was, and what it meant, because that’s actually a huge topic. So today that is what we’re talking about. What is the “Law?” This is something referenced all over the place in the Bible—not just the Old Testament, but Jesus is constantly talking about the Law. The apostles also argued constantly about the law, who should obey it, who shouldn’t. Jewish people today even have long discussions and disagreements about to what extent they are required to follow the law: which one of the big divisions between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed Jews. So this discussion of “What is the Law and who must follow it” is something that has been debated since Moses all the way until today. For over three thousand years people have been discussing this very topic.

So today we’re going to talk about it. Obviously we can’t get through all the nuances in an hour, but I want to give you guys a decent understanding of what the Law is and why we as Christians don’t follow it today.

Please go get your Bibles.

Before we open to anything who can remind us what God’s covenant with Abraham is? [Let them answer.]

That’s right, God made a covenant with Abraham to be his God and the God of his people and to make him the father of many people. At this point we’ve seen how Abraham’s descendants have become many people. You have Ishmael whose descendants formed their own people group. You have Esau, whose descendants became the Edomites. We didn’t study this—but after Sarah died, Abraham remarried and had more children who went on to become different people’s. Also now we have the Israelites who are descended from Jacob, Abraham’s grandson.

God made the initial covenant with Abraham—to be his God—and then renewed it with Isaac, Abraham’s son, and then Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. After all those years in Egypt—over four hundred—it’s possible the Israelites may have worried that the covenant no longer held. But obviously, God went to great lengths and performed many miraculous acts to free them from Egypt. In case that wasn’t enough, God also re-established the covenant in words. Please turn in your Bibles to Exodus 19:3-6.

3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

God reiterates that the Israelites are his people—that they are the children of the covenant. And that he will make them a “priestly kingdom,” they are to be the example of God in the world. For their end of the deal? They just have to obey his voice and keep the covenant. So the men must be circumcised, and all of them must listen to God.

For Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God basically had a one-on-one relationship with them. God could tell them what they should do or what they were doing wrong, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob needed to listen to that voice. But now we’re talking about thousands of Israelites. God could talk to each of them individually, he certainly has that power, but instead he is choosing to make himself known through a single prophet—in this case Moses. That’s a set up we’re going to see go on for a while in the history of Israel. There is one single prophet who talks to God and relays God’s thoughts to the people. This prophet is then the leader of the people—in both a religious and government sense. Israel is the definition of a theocracy at this time—it is both a nation and a religion. The idea of separation of church and state is completely foreign to them.

To underscore this, we have the Law. God gives Moses Laws which are both religious and civil laws. These are the laws of the nation of Israel. And it covers everything from their relationship with God, to what do you do if an animal you own accidentally hurts another person, to what sort of crimes merit the death penalty. So for the Israelites to keep the covenant, in addition to circumcision they must obey the law.

The initial revelation of the law is also the most famous: The ten commandments. Let’s turn to Exodus 20:1-17.

20 Then God spoke all these words:

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We can already see from these laws alone that God is concerned not just by our relationship with him but by our relationships with others. The first four are God laws. Don’t have any other gods. Don’t make any other idols. Don’t use God’s name in vein. Remember the Sabbath.

The others are people to people laws. Honor your parents. Don’t murder. Don’t have an affair. Don’t steal. Don’t lie or gossip about your neighbor. Don’t covet other people’s stuff.

These all seem pretty basic how to lead a good life while following God rules. But God also gives Moses more law later. The entire book of Leviticus is basically nothing but laws. Someone read Leviticus 2:11.

11 No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord.

This is one verse from a whole section on offering grain to God. And it basically says that any bread offering made to God can’t have yeast in it. It needs to be flatbread. That’s super specific right? And definitely a religious law—a law dictating an appropriate sacrifice to God.

Someone read Leviticus 13:3-4

3 The priest shall examine the disease on the skin of his body, and if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous disease; after the priest has examined him he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean. 4 But if the spot is white in the skin of his body, and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall confine the diseased person for seven days.

This section? This is a leprosy test. Leprosy is a skin disease that could be very contagious and detrimental. So this section basically tells people that if they think they have leprosy to go before a priest. It then tells the priest what to do to determine if it is or is not leprosy and then what to do with the person in either case.

Someone read Leviticus 19:23.

23 When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden; three years it shall be forbidden to you, it must not be eaten.

This is a law about when it’s cool to eat the fruit from a tree after you plant it.

What I’m getting at here is these are a lot of laws that cover a lot of topics. Laws on how exactly to celebrate specific holidays. Not just like “Christmas is cool, you should celebrate it.” But like “here are the very exact things you must do to celebrate Passover.” There are laws on who you are and are not allowed to marry. There are laws about how to treat a poor man and laws about how to treat strangers. There are laws about what they’re allowed to eat and what they’re allowed to wear. The Israelites couldn’t eat—still don’t eat—pig, and they couldn’t wear mixed material clothes. And there are very specific laws on how to treat and worship God. These are a lot of laws.

There were even laws on who is allowed to be a priest. And I don’t just mean like now how we have church bi-laws about how to select a pastor and what sort of education one does or does not need to be a pastor and whether or not women are allowed to be pastors. I mean only people of the house of Levi where allowed to be priests at all, and of those, there were a few very critical things that only people directly descended from Aaron were allowed to do as like High Priest.

And if you went against these laws, there were punishments, and some of those punishments were you would die. If the wrong person touched the wrong holy object? They would be struck down dead instantly.

Now some of these laws it might be easy to see why we don’t follow anymore. God was giving them laws for running a nation, something they had never done before. So some of these civil laws are all about maintaining law and order. We live in different countries now. We have different civil laws, that makes sense.

Some of the laws, like the tree one about not picking fruit for three years, that’s just some basic agriculture sense that God was trying to give them because they didn’t necessarily understand agriculture yet. So that also makes sense.

But what about the other laws? The ones that are moral, or seem to be. And who decides what’s a moral verses civil law anyway? Because it’s not like they had any separation of church and state! They were all tied up in each other! Who are we to tell the ancient Hebrews that eating fruit in the second year isn’t immoral?

So why? Why don’t modern Christians follow the law?

This is actually something that the first Christians actually argued bitterly about. Like there were factions, and it was one of the first major divisions of the early church. Were people who were not Jewish required to follow Jewish law, once they became followers of Jesus? And even ahead of that, some people were concerned that Gentiles shouldn’t be allowed to be Christians at all! The Jewish people were God’s people after all. Jesus came for them first, the Gentile second. So why waste time on Gentiles when there were still Jewish people to be saved?

Please turn to Acts. Acts is the history of the early church and chronicles a lot of these debates and discussions. In Acts there is a story about a Roman man named Cornelius and Peter.

Cornelius was a Roman centurion, so basically an officer in the Roman army. Despite that he believed in God and basically deeply respected the Jewish people. One day he’s going about his business when he has a vision and in the vision God tells him to send for Peter—who was on of Jesus’s disciples and now one of the early leaders of the Christian church. So Cornelius dispatches some trusted servants to go get Peter.

Meanwhile Peter has a vision of his own. Can someone read Acts 10:9-16?

9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Peter has a vision where he sees a large sheet covered in all sorts of animals, specifically the sorts of animals he’s supposed to eat. In the vision God tells him to kill and eat the animals, and Peter is like “no way God, I’d never do anything that would make me unclean.” Because remember it would have been against Jewish law to eat some of these animals. And doing so would make you basically dirty in the eyes of God. There was a long drawn out process to get clean again.

But then the voice said “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

It happens three times and Peter is confused by this. He has no idea what it means. Then Cornelius’s servants show up to get Peter.

Now a Jewish guy hanging out with some Romans? Not cool back then. But Peter goes with them because he realizes what the vision means. He says it in Acts 10:28.

28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

The vision wasn’t about a food. I mean it is okay to eat whatever. God isn’t going to call you unclean because you ate bacon this morning, even though eating pig is against the Jewish law. But this vision wasn’t about the food. It was about the Gentiles. God told Peter not to call unclean what God has made clean. And that’s the Gentiles. Before this, Peter would have doubted any Gentile could really follow Jesus.

The Jews were God’s chosen people, but through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God made a way for Gentiles to come to God.

Peter later had to declare this decision in front of the whole Christian council. Because there was a huge argument on whether Christians had to follow Jewish law to be saved. Turn to Acts 15.

Some context. This is a council that is being held in Jerusalem where basically the argument boiled down to whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised. Remember circumcision was the mark of the covenant God made with Abraham, the only thing God required of Abraham. Circumcision was a painful medical procedure—remember these are not people with modern medicine and ways to numb skin. This medical procedure basically requires removing a large area of skin. Painful.

Needless to say most of the Gentiles didn’t want to do it. However, many of the Jewish people were adamant. If this was the sign of the covenant, didn’t Gentiles have to do it to? Didn’t God require it of them too?

Alright let’s read Acts 15:6-11.

6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Peter is basically like “You guys know God sent me amongst the Gentiles to preach to them.” The Cornelius story was the start of that. And he’s like God made them clean. This is the whole let no one say is unclean what God made clean. And Peter is like “No one was able to ever fulfil the whole law anyway, we all always messed it up. So why put this burden on these people when we weren’t even able to handle the burden? And last point: we’re saved by grace alone.” Mic drop. Walk off the stage.

We’re saved by grace alone might be a phrase you hear a lot and you might be uncertain what it means. It basically means that Jesus’s actions covered us, and it’s not our actions of keeping the law or doing the right things that work our way into heaven or being Jesus’ followers.

We are not part of the Old Covenant that covered the Jewish people. We are part of the New Covenant.

This can all be rather confusing. It can seem like God changed the rules. In the beginning people had to do all these things and actions to be right with God. Now we’re just covered, free and clear because we believe in Jesus! It seems a lot easier, and it seems a lot different. And the answer—as with most things in the Bible—is both yes and no.

Let’s look back at what Jesus says. Turn to Matthew 5:17-20

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus says he didn’t come to abolish the law but fulfil it. And he also says whoever breaks the commandments will be the least in the kingdom of heaven and whoever holds them will be great. But also that it’s basically impossible to uphold them. That’s what he’s seeing with that last part. Your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees who are the most righteous among us!

That’s also what Peter was referring to when he said that no one was able to keep the law. It was always impossible. That’s why in the law there are requirements of sacrifice—to cover the sin and breaking of the law that people did. Without those sacrifices to cover people’s sins, without that loophole, people would be separated from God because of even one breaking of the law, one sin.

And then Jesus came and he was the ultimate sacrifice who covered all of us. That’s why we don’t need to do animal sacrifices anymore. We’re covered by the ultimate sacrifice. Of God’s own son.

And if that is all still confusing to you and you’re still befuddled over whether or not we should follow the law, let’s go back to a section we’ve studied before. Matthew 22:34-40.

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The whole law boils down into two laws, as we saw in the Ten Commandments. The first four are about loving God and the last four are about loving your neighbor. Because in the end that is what we’re called to do, love.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

If we keep those commands, we are keeping the intent of the law. But your salvation, your covering by Jesus is not requisite on you doing that. Jesus loves us no matter what we do. We are saved by grace, a gift we can’t and haven’t earned. But if you want to keep the heart of the law, the heart of what God was trying to do by giving the people of Israel these laws: then love God and love your neighbor.

Simple but not easy. And it is something we should always strive to do.

Jesus even says this again later in his farewell address to his disciples. It’s the night before he’ll be betrayed and he’s giving a farewell speech—though they don’t know it. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says “34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Most of us (all I think) in this room are not Jewish. We are not descended from Jewish people and no one in our family is Jewish. We are by definition Gentiles. The law is the Jewish law for the ancient Jewish nation of Israel. But we are followers of Jesus and therefore we are called to do this new commandment Jesus has given us. We are to love another. It is our love and kindness and gentleness and grace with each other that should mark us as followers of Jesus to the world.

It’s the hardest thing to do. To be kind to that annoying kid in your class. To practice grace and gentleness with the bully who picks on you. Sometimes it’s impossible. But it is what we are called to, and that and loving God are the only two laws that for us ultimately matter.

 

Depression, Suicide, and Psalm 88

Lesson:

When I was your age, when I was in the seventh grade, my family moved to Georgia. We moved to this tiny little town where most of my mother’s family lived. I had so many cousins and aunts and uncles there that when we moved into the town we didn’t need the help of a moving company—not even our piano which was actually so heavy it took six guys to move.

One of the people who helped the most was my cousin Chuck. Now Chuck was an adult—he was actually my mom’s cousin—but he was probably only as old as I am now back then, so 30. Chuck was super friendly and willing to help out with anything. He was there helping out the entire time we moved in, and I remember him as being super friendly and very nice.

The first funeral I ever remember attending was Chuck’s. It was later that very same year—I was your age, in seventh grade. Chuck didn’t die from any illness or an accident. Chuck committed suicide.

He committed suicide on the anniversary of the day his father had committed suicide many years earlier, but I never knew his father, my Uncle Gene.

Why are we talking about this? Well I learned earlier this week that a teenager that I knew when she was your age committed suicide. And we need to talk about this. Because this may not affect you now, and I pray to God it never will affect you, but odds are someday you will know someone who suffers from depression, and maybe even suffer from it yourself.

Can you guys go get your Bibles? I need you to turn to Psalms. So the trick to finding the book of Psalms is just open your Bible directly to the middle. Page wise in the Bible, Psalms is in the middle so it can often be found this way.

Don’t flip to any specific one yet. I’m just going to talk about Psalms in general. Psalms is basically a book of poetry. People often contribute all of Psalms as having been written by King David, and while it’s true some of the psalms were, it’s basically a collection of poems written by different people. Now I don’t know how much poetry you guys have studied in school, but a good way to think about the psalms is basically as songs. Why do you guys think people write songs, and music? [Let them answer.]

I think people write songs to express emotions that are greater than words. Through a combination of sounds that create melodies and harmonies, a musician can create emotion. Movie music does this all the time. A movie composer is trying to express the emotion the people in the movie are feeling—since we don’t live inside the people’s heads. Let me play some examples for you.

Don’t tell me the movie but tell me what emotion does this song make you feel? [Star Wars theme song]

What about this one? [Jaws theme song]

And those are the ones without words. Psalms doesn’t have background music. It’s just lyrics. Can lyrics alone make you feel an emotion? [Let them answer] Well, here’s one of my favorite songs, I’m going to read the lyrics and I want you guys to tell me the emotions:

Oh, my love, my darling
I've hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me

What emotion is this song about?

From the lyrics we can tell this is someone who has been separated from his love a long time, and because it’s been so long, he’s afraid she doesn’t love him anymore. But he still loves her and he hopes against hope she does. This is a song of love yes, but more it’s a song of yearning.

The psalmists are basically lyricists. They write lyrics that express emotions and feelings. Some of the songs are prayers and some are songs, but both are things in which they are expressing everything from the happiest of happys to the deepest of despairs. Today we’re going to turn to a Psalm where the writer talks about the deepest of despair.

Please turn to Psalm 88. It’s long so I’m just going to read the whole thing, but please follow along.

   Lord, God of my salvation,
    when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry.

3 For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
    I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves.Selah

8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9     my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
    I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the shades rise up to praise you?Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
    I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
    from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
    my companions are in darkness.

What is the emotion of this Psalm? [Let them answer]

There is a word for this level of sadness. It’s despair. The dictionary definition of despair is thus: “The complete loss or absence of hope.”

This Psalm is written by a person who knows God is his salvation, knows God is the one to whom he should take his troubles, but still he is in despair. He feels like God isn’t listening to him. He feels like God has put him in the lowest of pits. He has no friends left, he feels completely alone in the world and he feels like God too has abandoned them.

This level of despair where you feel completely isolated from everyone around you and feel like there is no hope left in the world, and that even God has forsaken you—this level where the Psalmist says he feels near Sheol—which is death—we have a word for this. It’s called Depression.

This is what depression feels like, this psalm. If you have a friend ever tell you they’re depressed and you don’t know what that means I want you to remember Psalm 88 and I want you to look at it. And if you ever feel like this—like you have not a friend in the world, including God—I want you to remember that this is what depression is. Psalm 88 is depression.

And this is not the only Psalm about this. Yes a lot of the psalms are about happy things, but if you read through the psalms you get a full spectrum of human emotion. Because we’re human, and some days we are happy and some days we are sad.

But depression is more than sadness. It’s like an oppressive never ending sadness. It’s despair, a feeling that there is no hope in the world. A depressed person looks to the future and they don’t see happiness—they don’t see any prospect of anything working out. They just see bleakness. They also often feel that not only have they been abandoned by all their friends, but that they are a burden to them. This is why depressed people don’t always get help. They think their presence and conversation is not even welcome—not just not welcome, but hurtful to you. They think their very presence is harming everyone around them.

This depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. Because if a person things they’re harming everyone around them, they think the best solution is to take themselves out of the equation. That by removing themselves they will make everyone else’s lives better.

This is a lie.

I’m telling you now that if anyone of you died, you will be missed. I would miss you.

Even if you think you’re my most annoying student, or you think I don’t like you, it’s not true. I think you all are smart young people with bright futures ahead of you. I pray for each and every one of you. And if you think no one else on this planet will miss you, I want you to remember that I will.

You have all touched my life. You have changed me and the way I approach the Word of God—how I study and present things with new and fresh eyes. And it’s not just the future I see in you, it’s now. You guys are changing lives for the better now. You are changing my life for the better now. You are not and never will be a burden on me. And it is never too inconvenient for you to talk to me. You can always talk to me about anything. Any time. That is literally my phone number on the board.

But I can guarantee it’s not just me who cares for you. I’ve met many of your parents. Whether you believe it or not, they would die for you if they thought it would spare you pain—that’s how much parents love their children. I’ve met many of your siblings, some are sitting here in this class. I’ve seen how your siblings look at you, how they interact with you. Even if you think they don’t, they love you.

My little sister annoys the ever-living daylights out of me sometimes. Sometimes I just want to shake her and say “Why can’t you be normal?” But I love her more than I can express in words, and if she ever died, I don’t know if I could recover. Nothing could ever fill the void she would leave in my life. Nothing.

But when a person is depressed, they can’t always see these connections. Just look at the Psalm. We know God is love, but the Psalmist thinks even God has abandoned him. This is what depression does. It feels like a wall that just settles around you, separating you from everyone else. And you feel like they can’t even see you, and that you can’t reach them.

And here the Psalmist is crying out to God, he’s saying to God please come help me! If we look at verses 13 and 14 he says,

13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
    Why do you hide your face from me?

This is not the cry of a man who has lost his faith. Historically, some Christian groups have tried to blame depression on a lack of faith in God, but if we look at the Psalms we see that is just not true. This is written by a man who is devout. He cries out to God every single morning, “God take this pain from me!” That is not the cry of a man who doesn’t believe. That is the cry of a man who does. He knows God could take this pain from him.

But remember when we studied Joseph—we saw how Joseph’s life went into this out of control spiral of horrible things. His siblings sold him into slavery! Potiphar’s wife tried to rape him! He got put in jail because she accused him of raping her! A man he thought might be able to help him get out of jail forgot about him for two years.

Horrible things happen. We live in a world where people have the freedom to make choices that can be bad and affect you like Joseph.

But depression is different. Depression can certainly be triggered by things in your life going horribly—like if you were Joseph. But sometimes your life is going on just fine. Things are great. And that’s when depression strikes.

Because depression is a chronic illness, just like getting the flu or bronchitis. We live in a world where people can get sick. Where people can be born with things like cancer or birth defects. And you don’t get these things because God doesn’t love you. You don’t get them because of some moral failing. This psalmist didn’t do anything wrong or commit any sin. He was devout and doing his best. He felt like God didn’t love him, but God still did. The Bible is clear God loves us all. It’s John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” Psalm 107:1 "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever."

He loves us. All of us.

But this illness called depression can cause us, just like the psalmist, not to feel that love. We can know God or our families or our friends love us, but we also just feel like…maybe they don’t. maybe it’s all a lie. Maybe they’re pretending and just tolerating us. And maybe they would be better off if I wasn’t here. You can see this is verse 8 of the Psalm.

If you ever start feeling like this, even if you think it’s a bother, you need to tell someone. The only way to fix bronchitis or flu or cancer is by treating it like the disease it is. Ignoring it will just cause it to get worse and people can and do die from the flu and cancer. Suicide is basically someone just dying of depression. And like those other sicknesses, if you go to a doctor they can help you and help make you better.

And that reaching out to someone for help is probably the single hardest thing for a person with depression to do, because remember a person with depression might feel like their very existence is a hassle to you. So if your friend ever reaches out to you that they’re feeling depressed or mention that sometimes they want to kill themselves, you need to take them seriously. You need to not argue with them, but listen to them. Be sympathetic but remind them emphatically that you are there for them. Do not under any circumstances promise to keep it a secret, because the most important thing is you need to tell an adult who can get them help.

And if you are depressed or feeling suicidal or someone tells you they are, and you’re afraid to go to their parents, your youth minister and myself are always here for you. The youth minister has made her cell phone number available to all of you, and mine is on the board.

And if you don’t want to talk to us? If you’d rather talk to a stranger because you’re too afraid. Or if you’d rather text a stranger there are numbers for that too. They are also on the board. I recommend you guys take pictures of these numbers, just in case. You may never experience depression, but odds are you will have a friend who does. And you want to be prepared if they ever reach out to you.

That said if you do have a friend who commits suicide, it is not your fault. Sometimes we blame ourselves, we think if only we had seen it. Or maybe they said something about suicide but we thought they were joking.

My cousin Chuck in the months before his death was one of the friendliest happiest seeming people I knew. If you had asked me, I would have said there was no way he was suffering from depression.

He was.

And he died.

It wasn’t my fault. It’s not your fault when you have a friend who dies of an illness.  And if you ever get depression, it is not your fault, just like it’s not your fault if you get a cold.

Illnesses happen. And if the Psalms are anything to go by, depression is an illness that has been around for a very long time. Fortunately, we now have modern doctors who can help with these things.

I hope none of you ever experience depression, just like I hope none of you get any other chronic debilitating illness. I pray for you all, and I am here for you all. If you ever need to talk, I am here for you. Like I said, my number is on the board. You can always call me. You can always call the church. That is why churches exist, for that community, so you’re not alone. Because God knows we need people on this earth who can help us.

And if you ever need help, even if it’s the hardest thing you ever do—ask for help.

And that’s it. That’s the end of today’s lesson. Shorter than normal I know but if you have any questions now is the time to ask.

Phone Numbers for the Board:

  • National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: Text "Connect" to 741741

If you'd rather talk to a teenager, there are specially trained teens who can talk to you:

  • Teen Line: 1-800-TLC-TEEN
  • Text "TEEN" to 839863

Notes from Class

We actually had a really small class for this lesson because it was the Sunday of Spring Break. Most of the students were on vacation. That said there was some good discussion and things I think that are good to capture here.

A seventh grade boy said, "My friends joke about killing themselves all the time. 'I got a B on my test, I'm going to kill myself' sort of thing. What do I do?"

The best advice I had was always respond as if he's serious. Respond with something like "Are you okay?" or "Do you need to talk about it?" or some variant of that. A kid who is honestly joking will be like "what? no man, I was joking." Then you should probably explain how that's an inappropriate thing to joke about and maybe even use the example of a girl from your church recently did commit suicide and it's not funny. But if someone is not joking and there is more going on, your seriousness will given them the opportunity to open up. If you have other suggestions of what kids should do in this scenario, please leave it in the comments! I would be happy to hear them and pass them on.

In both Sunday School classes (because we have two now, both at different hours) the topic of "being afraid to tell your parents" something came up. And I told them if they were ever in a situation where they needed to get out and they were too afraid to call their parents to come pick them, I would happily do so. But I also reiterated that they should call your parents, because it is better to be grounded than dead. 

Also when talking about how depression is an illness, I compared it to the allergies I was actually suffering from during the lesson. I explained how allergies are basically caused by your body freaking out, thinking that pollen is dangerous and going to kill you. So it throws your immune system into full drive trying to protect you. Your body thinks what it's doing is right, but it's actually not a necessary reaction. Mental illness is the same way. Your brain is either over producing or under producing something, and it's just doing what it thinks is best. But like allergies and any other illness, if you visit a doctor they can help you.