Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Toward the goal

This is the lesson from 2014-12-28. Amazingly, it went pretty much according to the outline.


In most murder mysteries, the murder occurs at the beginning and the bulk of the story is the pursuit of the solution — discovering who the murderer is. In Toward Zero, however, Agatha Christie began with the buildup, telling the story of how the murder was to be committed, and then, when it happens, the detective, who has been observing the people, knows the solution immediately.

Today’s lesson in Ezra is like that: People are gathered, work is begun and then halted and then resumed, and it’s all heading toward something.


A few years ago, we were studying 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles, which run in parallel to each other. At the very end, the kingdom of Judah is conquered, and many of the people are carried off into Babylon. Then the Babylonians are conquered by the Persians. But then, just before the end of 2 Chronicles, the Persian emperor decrees that peoples conquered by the Babylonians back to their ancestral homes.

And the book of Ezra begins by repeating those words of Cyrus, the Persian emperor, from the end of 2 Chronicles.


  • READ 1:1
  • READ 1:2–3
  • READ 1:4
  • READ 1:5
  • SAY Don’t read too much into Cyrus’s words here: This doesn’t translate into his belief in the “God of heaven.” He used similar, culturally appropriate language for every group he was repatriating to its homeland.
  • SAY On the other hand, don’t read too little into it either. God made it so that this change in emperors (this was the “first year of Cyrus”) and change in policy would be in place. God had a plan. Remember what Proverbs 21:1 says: The king’s heart goes wherever God directs it.

The altar and the beginning of the temple

  • SAY So the people migrate, and they get settled in. And then …
  • READ 3:1–3
  • So the daily burnt offerings are in place.
  • We don’t live under their sacrificial system. ASK But do we have anything that should happen on a regular schedule like the daily burnt offerings?
    • Don’t neglect assembling togther (Hebrews)
    • The blessed man meditates on God’s law day and night (Psalm 1)
  • READ 3:4–6
  • ASK What’s missing? (the temple)
  • READ 3:10–11
  • SAY The work on the temple is begun — the foundation is laid and there is great rejoicing! However …
  • READ 3:12–13
  • ASK Why was there weeping? (the new was not a good as the old)


  • Let’s rewind a few decades: When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom, and the Babylonians later conquered Jerusalem and carried people off, they also imported captives from other lands they conquered into Judea.
  • The superstition commonly held by almost everyone (except the Jews) was that gods were attached to places. When you went somewhere, you worshipped the local gods. So when the Assyrians imported people, they brought in a priest to teach the new poeple about the local gods. What did these people do when the temple was started?
  • READ 4:2
  • ASK Without reading ahead: Would we have accepted their help if we were there?
  • ASK How much help should we expect from the culture around us? How much of the culture’s help should we ask for?
    • What about, for instance, our tax deductions for our giving to the church?
  • The answer: READ 4:3
  • The result: READ 4:4–5
  • And a letter was sent to the new emperor, who replied that they had to stop building the temple.

The resumption

  • READ 5:1–2
  • This is many years later.
  • Notice that the rebuilding didn’t wait for the government’s permission.
  • There’s a new set of civil servants in place.
    • It has been several years. There haven’t been any major rebellions, so the Jews are known to be good citizens.
    • The civil servants aren’t opposed to the building of the temple. They just want to check the permits.
    • They send a letter to the new emperor, Darius. He has the records checked and finds that the Jews are just doing what was commanded 2 or 3 emperors back, and he makes provision for everything to be done.
  • Finally, the temple is finished.

The passover

  • READ 6:16
  • There was still something missing that they had waited to have the temple for.
  • READ 6:19
  • SAY This is what they’ve been driving toward. They couldn’t keep the passover without the temple. Why did they need the Passover? From their point of view, it was to commemorate the miracles God performed to get their ancestors out of Egypt a thousand years earlier. But from our point of view, it’s because it tells us of Jesus.
    • God’s firstborn — only-born — being sacrificed for our sins, in our place.
    • God passes over our sins because the penalty for them has been exacted.
    • Century after century, the Passover as a type (remember: a person, object, or event that prefigures Jesus) was performed and was now resumed. It was preparing the way so that Jesus would be recognized.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good News: Great Joy!

This is the outline of the lesson from 2014-12-21.


  • ASK What is your favorite Christmas movie?
  • ASK What is your favorite Christmas song (hymn, secular, whatever)?
  • ASK What is your favorite family Christmas tradition?
  • SAY When I was growing up, whoever in our family was in town would gather on Christmas Eve, and we would read the Christmas story from Luke 2, around in a circle, one verse at a time. So that’s what we’re going to do now.
  • HAND OUT the handout, and read it in a circle.


  • We already read about the shepherds.
    • ASK What are some of the things we’ve heard about them? (Low-lifes, tended the sheep for the official sacrifices, etc)
    • ASK How much do we know from the text? (Not much)
    • SAY From external sources, we know
      • they were not allowed to testify in court;
      • Pig farmers were worse than shepherds.
  • When Michael & Andrew were little, they would say, “It’s dark at night,” and we thought it was cute. But darkness was something the shepherds understood. So when the glory of the Lord shone around them and there was an angel there, they were terrified. So the angel said “Don’t be afraid.”
  • ASK Why not be afraid? (Good news: great joy)
    • Good news = Gospel
    • I looked at a lot of translations, and there were 2 basic ways to phrase this:
      • Good news that brings or causes great joy
      • Good news of great joy
    • ASK (Thinking question) Can you see a difference between them?
      • The good news results in great joy, vs.
      • The good news is great joy.
    • ASK What is the source of the joy?
      • For unto you is born (Isaiah 9:6) Savior/Christ/Lord
        • “Savior” = “Joshua” = “Jesus”
        • “Christ” = “Messiah”
        • “Lord” = “God” (Psalm 110:1)
  • What does “multitude of the heavenly host” mean? (The army of heaven)
    • Why an army? (READ Joshua 5:13–14a) The angels were there because their commander was taking a new form — a baby.
    • What was the army doing? (Saying “Glory to God …”)
    • READ TOGETHER 2:14.
    • “Peace” — An army is there declaring peace. We aren’t talking about the old Yugoslavia, where they had peace at the pointy end of a gun. And we aren’t talking about warm fuzzies. Or the peace of God, i.e., the peace that God has within himself. (We can have that, too, but that’s not what it means here.) We’re talking about peace with God the way Romans 5 talks about it: No longer at war with God.

At the barn

  • They go and find Jesus, wrapped up and in the feed trough just the way the angel said. And they told people.
  • “All who heard it wondered,” as in finding it wondrous, wonderful.
  • God had Luke learn about this and write it down for us, so that we can wonder, too.
    • Wonder at the Savior — the one who came to pay for your sins.
    • Wonder at the Messiah — the one who came to free his people from their slavery to sin.
    • Wonder at the Lord — the one who “rules the world in truth and grace.”
  • And this is the message we have: A Savior (Jesus), Christ the Lord.