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Week 1 - January 6-10:
Luke 1:1-4: Luke artfully introduces his gospel of the life and teachings of Jesus with a formal dedication following in the classical style of his day. Luke informs us that: 1) Others had sought to compile gospel narratives of the things believers had been taught by eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. 2) It seemed good to him, after careful research, to write his own “orderly account.” 3) Since he had “traced the course of all things accurately from the first,” Theophilus could have certainty concerning the things he had been taught about Christ.
As you begin this New Year exploring the life and teachings of Jesus, what do you hope to learn? How do you want your faith affirmed?
John 1:1-18: In the sublime opening lines of his gospel, John sets forth to introduce the great truths and themes which we will continually visit throughout our reading, such as: Jesus’ eternal nature (vv. 1-3), His incarnation (vv. 4-5), the work of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah (vv. 6-8), the Lord’s rejection by His own people (vv. 9-11), His saving work (vv. 12-13) and the magnificent Savior, Jesus Christ (vv. 14-18). Over the many entries of our reading plan we will see the richness of each of these topics.
Write down everything 1:1-18 says about the Word, noting who or what He is and what He does.
Matthew 1:1-17: At the outset of his gospel, Matthew, writing for a Jewish audience, establishes Jesus’ heritage as the “son of David, the son of Abraham” (v. 1). With a series of three “fourteen” generational groupings (v. 17), Matthew demonstrates that Jesus is not only a direct decedent of Abraham and David, but ultimately the fulfillment of the covenant God made with each man (see Genesis 12:1-3; 2 Samuel 7:12-16). Secondarily, Matthew wants to demonstrate God’s providential working to bring the Messiah into the world. He didn’t forget His promises to Abraham and David but worked to bring the Anointed One at just the right time (cf. Galatians 4:4, 29).
Look over the various names Matthew includes, which ones do you recognize? Other than Abraham and David, what significance can you attach to any of these people?
Luke 1:5-25: Following his introduction, Luke begins his narrative with the dramatic account of the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist. In Jesus’ day most Jews believed that for more than 400 years God had actively spoke to His people since the prophet Malachi lived. Malachi ended his work with a promise from God to raise up Elijah and usher in spiritual renewal in Israel (Malachi 4:1-6). Now with the foretelling of John’s birth, God is remembering His long made promise by raising up Elijah in the figure of John (compare Luke 1:16; Malachi 3:1; 4:6).
From the text, describe Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. What, in Zechariah’s mind, made the promise of a child unbelievable? Have you ever responded to God’s promises as Zechariah did? Explain.
Luke 1:26-38: Next Luke turns his attention to the foretelling of Jesus’ birth. This section parallels the one immediately preceding (Luke 1:5-25). Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus as he had John’s (cf. Luke 1:19, 26). Again, a divinely initiated birth announcement shows the unique significance of the individual to be born. In the preceding section the father was the main figure, but in this one the mother is the center of the story. The significant feature of the birth of Jesus is that His mother was a virgin. The importance of the virgin birth cannot be overstated. A right view of the incarnation hinges on the truth that Jesus was virgin-born. Both Luke (v. 34) and Matthew (Matthew 1:18-25) expressly state that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. The Holy Spirit produced the conception through supernatural means (v. 35). The nature of Christ’s conception testifies to both His deity and humanity in one.
How does Mary respond to the angel’s proclamation (v. 34, 38)? Compare Mary’s response to Zechariah’s in 1:18. Why did Mary receive no rebuke? How can you cultivate Mary’s attitude?
Keep reading and we'll see you next week. Blessings. ~Clay Gentry
Today, it’s time for me to return to what has been my theme throughout 2019: preaching on sermon topics requested by members. On this occasion I want to take up a topic requested by one of the sisters here—the use of musical instruments in our assemblies.
I think this is a worthwhile subject for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s something that stands out about our services as compared to church services elsewhere. Visitors to our assemblies are nearly guaranteed to notice that we only sing together, that a praise band or a piano is nowhere in sight. It’s useful to offer them an explanation of why we do things this way.
Second, if we want to continue our tradition of a-cappella singing, we have to continue to teach on that tradition, to explain why it’s an important aspect of our obedience to God. It’s easy to assume that everybody here gets it, but too often, that assumption is unjustified. With these things in mind, let’s examine instrumental music in worship.
From a Biblical perspective, I see four main problems with the practice. The first is that IT DOESN’T FOLLOW THE PATTERN. For evidence of why this is important, look at 2 Timothy 1:13. Here, Paul tells us that his instructions to Christians aren’t random and unique to each individual. Instead, when we put them all together, they constitute a pattern, a coherent system of worship and service that Timothy, and indeed all Christians, are supposed to follow.
Because this is so, whenever we want to know if something is acceptable to God or not, all we have to do is look at the pattern. If it’s part of what we see in the New Testament, we should do it. If it isn’t part of what we see in the New Testament, we shouldn’t do it.
Within the New Testament, there are about half a dozen passages that talk about singing praise to God as part of worship. Some of them we’ll look at this morning; some we won’t. However, they’re there, and they make it clear that a-cappella worship is part of the divinely ordained pattern.
By contrast, when we search through the New Testament, we never find anything said about Christians using musical instruments in worship. The instrument isn’t part of God’s pattern for us. Of course, there are plenty of churches that pay no heed to this and use instruments in worship anyway, but that isn’t for us. In this congregation, we don’t want to follow ourselves. We want to follow God. We want to be Christians simply, and to be simply Christians. That means that we leave the instrument to others.
Second, instrumental worship is problematic because IT DOESN’T TEACH AND ADMONISH. Here, consider Colossians 3:16. According to this text, one of the main reasons that we are to sing to one another is because we learn from our song worship. It builds us up in the faith. In fact, it’s possible for someone to be taught the gospel merely by listening to our singing. On the other hand, no one ever learned the gospel from an instrument.
Let me give you an example. Back when I was in law school, I was leaving my apartment one day when I heard somebody playing a flute. I listened for a moment, and I recognized the melody as the tune for the hymn “Something for Jesus”. The flutist was very good. They did a beautiful job. However, if somebody who didn’t know Jesus had heard them playing, that beautiful melody would have taught them nothing.
As Clay taught us last Sunday evening, when we sing, we’re supposed to listen to the words. We’re supposed to take the meaning to heart. A-cappella singing is perfectly suited to accomplishing this goal. By contrast, no instrument ever created can add to the meaning of a hymn. It can only be a distraction from it.
The third problem with using instruments in worship is that IT UNDERMINES “ONE ANOTHER”. Let’s spend some time reflecting on the words of Ephesians 5:18-19. Notice that as described here, the Biblical model of worship isn’t a bunch of Christians passively listening to a performance. It’s ordinary Christians singing to one another.
In many ways, this resembles the Bible’s teaching on ordinary Christians studying the word and figuring out God’s will for themselves. This teaching is so important because most of the religious world believes that ordinary Christians can’t do it themselves. They say that we can’t figure the Bible for ourselves, so we need a priest or a pastor to tell us what it says. Similarly, the practice of instrumental worship implies that the singing of ordinary Christians isn’t good enough, that we need an organist or a praise band to do it right.
Brethren, I don’t believe either one of those things! When I’m in one of our Bible classes, what I hear is ordinary Christians figuring out the word for themselves. Maybe we aren’t great Bible students by ourselves, but when we come together, the class’s comments reveal great wisdom and insight into the Scriptures. We don’t have clergy here because we don’t need clergy. God’s word is our birthright.
In the same way, during our song worship, I hear God’s people doing a great job of praising and glorifying Him. Maybe by ourselves, we aren’t great singers. I’m sure not! However, when we come together, our combined singing is beautiful and edifying.
That’s God’s plan for us. He wants us to be a people of song. His worship is our birthright too. Whether they realize it or not, people who want to bring in the instrument want to take that birthright away. They want us to sit quietly and let the professionals do it for us because the professionals do a better job. I think that would be a terrible shame.
Finally, instrumental worship DOESN’T HELP THE CHURCH GROW. I want to explore this topic by way of analogy, using Psalm 33:16-17. This passage highlights another way in which the Israelites wanted to be like the nations around them. Those nations won their wars with warhorses and chariots, so the Israelites wanted warhorses too.
The psalmist warns, though, that warhorses were a false hope for victory. The Israelites couldn’t succeed by imitating their neighbors. They needed to succeed by being different and trusting in God.
Sadly, there are many Christians today who look at things like the ancient Israelites did. They look at these big denominational churches that use the instrument, and they argue that if we start using instrumental music, we’ll grow and become big like them.
However, that way of thinking is a false hope. If you’ve got horses, that doesn’t mean you’re going to win the war. After all, the other guy has horses too! In the same way, if we were to adopt the instrument, that doesn’t mean that our church would get super-big. After all, many other churches in town have the instrument too. It only would put us on the same footing as them.
In fact, it would put us on a worse footing. Those other congregations are bigger, so they can afford a better band and a more impressive show. They have decades of experience in the spectacle of instrumental worship that we don’t have. How in the world are we going to grow by doing the same thing they’re doing, only worse?
Like the Israelites, we don’t succeed by becoming like those around us. We succeed by continuing to be different and trusting in God. We show that trust by obeying His word, by worshiping Him with our voices and nothing else.
Our relationship with Jesus is like a journey, the more we walk with Him the more we know Him. Would you like to know Jesus on a deeper level? If so, then let us invite you to join our congregation on a journey through The Life and Teachings of Jesus. Through a combination of the four gospels, we'll chronologically trace the footsteps of Jesus’ life from His preexistence with the Father, through His ministry in Galilee, to His submission to the cross and His ultimate triumph in the resurrection. Through short daily readings (starting Jan. 6th), along with insightful summaries and challenging questions, there's much to learn. Download your copy today. It is our hope that as we journey together through the greatest story ever told we’ll find, as did the apostle Paul, that “everything is loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). ~Clay Gentry
Like most brethren, I’ve been transfixed by the tragic events this past Sunday at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, TX. I mourn the deaths of both the guilty and the innocent, but I salute the courage of the members of the security team who put their own lives at risk to ensure that no more innocents would die.
I suspect that most Christians feel as I do. Intuitively, we sense that a man who kills in order to protect others from a criminal has done no wrong. Like a shepherd, he is defending the flock from wolves.
Nonetheless, our feelings aren’t enough to decide the matter. We also must reckon with the Scriptural witness on the subject. Previously, I’ve both written and preached that Jesus’ famous commandment to “turn the other cheek” should be read narrowly, with reference to persecution by the Roman government. It does not address defending ourselves from criminals. In fact, at several points, other Biblical arguments assume that people will practice self-defense.
However, that leaves another question. What about the many times in the book of Acts when Paul and others are attacked by angry anti-Christian mobs that aren’t part of the government? We don’t see Christians fighting back against the mobs either. Doesn’t that imply that Paul and the others were pacifists?
The behavior of Paul in Acts 16 and elsewhere is consistent with pacifism, but that’s not the only reasonable explanation. Throughout the New Testament, in numerous passages, Christians are told to live in a peaceable, quiet way that will bring respect from outsiders. This makes the gospel more attractive (the kind of people who will submit their lives to Christ generally don’t appreciate disturbance of the peace), but it also protected early Christianity from being crushed by the government.
The early church had its troubles with both Jewish and Roman officials, but those troubles would have been much worse if the first-century church had developed a reputation for provoking and participating in public disorder. Gamaliel would not have spoken up to save the apostles in Acts 5 if there had been blood in the streets. Paul would not have been able to defend himself before Felix in Acts 24 if he had been stirring up more trouble by fighting back. His defense in 24:12 is based on the fact that he didn’t.
The logic of 1 Timothy 6:1 applies here too. Disobedient Christian servants and unruly Christian brawlers both lead to the doctrine of Christ being spoken against. The reputation of the church is more important even than our own lives, and we should act accordingly.
By contrast, Christians protecting their own from murderers does not bring the doctrine of Christ into disrepute. The opposite is true. I’ve seen nothing but praise for the West Freeway members who stopped the shooter in six seconds flat.
Indeed, if all such incidents were resolved so quickly, I suspect there would be many fewer shooters. Killing sheep appeals to cowards, and shooters are cowards. Fighting guard dogs doesn’t.
We are responsible for submitting to the government that God has put in place, and we cannot participate in public disorder. However, the Bible also calls us to be wise in an evil age. The death toll at West Freeway is heartbreaking, but it could have been much worse. I am thankful for those whose foresight ensured that it would not be, and I think that all churches will do well to imitate their example.
Psalm 146 is an outpouring of praise to God for His goodness. Its opening phrase (“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!”) is used, among other places, in the third verse of “It Is Well with My Soul”. The psalmist continues from there to promise God that he never will cease to praise Him. He urges others not to trust in princes, who are mortal, but in God, who created all things and remains faithful. Whenever His people are in need, God sees them and blesses them. By contrast, He strikes down the wicked. He will reign forever, and everyone should praise Him.
Psalm 147 continues the theme of praise by considering God’s work in creation. The same God who cares for His people numbers and names the stars. He uses His infinite strength to care for the weak and vulnerable. Because of His providence, He is worthy of praise. He feeds all living things, and He cares for His own.
Next, the psalm invites the people of Jerusalem to praise God. He has cared for them, and His power is so great that even the weather does His bidding. Finally, His care is shown in that He has given His people His law.
Psalm 148 is one of the most familiar psalms in the psalter because it is paraphrased in our hymn “Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah!” It invites all of the creation to praise God: the angels, the celestial bodies, the elements of creation, living creatures, and all people. God is worthy of praise from all of these because He is above everything else.
Psalm 149 calls God’s people to praise Him. They are invited to glorify Him in a number of different ways. They praise Him because they can be certain of His help in defeating their enemies among the nations.
Psalm 150, the final psalm in the book, is another call to worship. It invites God’s people to praise Him in different locations, for His great works, and with various musical instruments. The psalm (and the book) concludes by appealing to everything that has breath to praise the Lord.