Dear 5x5x5 Readers,
Today we started reading in the Gospel of John. John’s gospel is entirely different in vocabulary, style, and purpose than Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Remember this, the gospels were not intended as biographies. Each Gospel writer selected from a much larger pool of information the material which would serve his purpose. John was not primarily interested in relating the events of Jesus’ life, and he leaves out a great many details that are covered in the other gospels. He presumes his readers are already familiar with Jesus.
John introduces Jesus as the adult Son of God. John is focused on explaining the profound meaning of Jesus’ teachings and actions. John selected stories from approximately twenty days in Jesus’ life, and arranged them to reveal to us a Messiah with a mission. As you read watch for:
– The “Seven Signs” or miracles John shares and consider what they reveal about the identity of Jesus.
– The “I am” statements of Jesus and consider what they reveal about His identity.
John is telling each story for a reason – he is explaining who Jesus is and what His mission was.
Dear 5x5x5 Bible readers, Welcome to 1st Peter this week! You know Peter – a fisherman, one of Jesus’ three closest disciples, the one who walked on water, also the one who denied knowing Jesus – Peter, the rock, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Pentecost. Peter writes this letter from Rome, late in his life, to Christians who are enduring hardships and persecution across the Roman empire.
1st Peter is a letter of encouragement, speaking into the lives of those who are suffering. Important themes in 1 Peter are:
– the identity of a believer (reborn into a new family, exiles and sojourners, a royal priesthood, and a chosen people),
– a call to holiness and good character in keeping with the standards of their new family,
– persevering through suffering,
– a living and eternal hope,
– submission and humility, and
– the coming judgment.
I’m actually teaching 1st Peter this fall at The River, and it is such a rich text – full of encouragement in suffering, and reminders of our identity and our future. As the world seems a bit crazy these days, and many are suffering, the words of Peter are timely. Be encouraged.
Dear 5x5x5 Bible readers,
After our short stay in the pastoral letters of Paul to Timothy (in Ephesus) and Titus (in Crete), we turn now to the letters of 1, 2 & 3 John. The John that is writing is an apostle, one of the “sons of thunder” who knew Jesus personally. He wrote the gospel according to John earlier, to introduce Jesus to those who did not know Him. Now, much later in life, he is writing to those who are already Christians.
These letters address the behavior of those who claim to be Christians. You will see repeatedly the phrase, “If we claim…” which is followed by clear expectations of the behavior of a Christian. John’s themes are simple and straightforward on topics of light/darkness, truth, love, sin, and obedience. John was probably the last surviving apostle when he wrote these letters, and he fights vigorously against the corruption of a true faith. It’s refreshing to see such clarity!
On June 27 we begin reading the book of Luke. Luke probably did not know Jesus personally and he was not one of the 12 disciples. Luke was a well-educated doctor and an early convert, who became very dedicated to the cause of the gospel and accompanied the apostle Paul on several missionary trips. Luke set out to compile a very detailed account of the life of Jesus and he interviewed many eyewitnesses before compiling this compelling and thoughtful summary.
Luke’s gospel is sometimes called a “gospel of relationships” as he provides many excellent character descriptions. As you read through Luke this month, make a note of all the different people Jesus encounters – consider their gender and their ethnic, religious, economic, and social groups. Luke chooses to highlight the poor and outcast, and he introduces thirteen women mentioned in no other gospel. He also shows delight and appreciation for children. The gospel helps us see value in people that society often rejects, and to bridge socio-cultural gaps – consider Jesus’ interaction with people as you read and study Luke.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus, Luke 5:31-32
On June 26 we will read Philemon – you’ll find it tucked away right before Hebrews. Philemon is a one page letter, Paul’s personal request for a favor from a friend. It’s a big favor – the life of an individual hangs in the balance. Philemon owned a slave, Onesimus, who had run away. In Rome Onesimus meets Paul and becomes a Christian, perhaps they even shared a jail cell together. Onesimus’ conversion to Christ greatly complicated his future – he knew he could not keep running from his responsibilities forever, but if he returned to his master he risked immediate execution or (if the owner was merciful) branding as a runaway. Paul writes a persuasive letter, using all his influence to persuade Philemon to welcome his runaway slave back and to treat him well.
Imagine an estranged relationship you know, or another awkward social situation where an offense has been committed, or there is a socially imposed distance… How can you play the role of a reconciler? How does Paul use his best diplomatic skills to bring two people together? What does he appeal to?
On June 20 we started Colossians, the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. Like the other letters of Paul we have been reading, it is relatively short and succinctly addresses both doctrinal and lifestyle issues.
When I think of the book of Colossians, several things stand out to me. In chapters 1-2 you will find one of the most powerful passages in the whole of scripture on the identity of Christ. In the margin of my Bible I have Colossians 1-2 tied to Ephesians 1-2 because in those four chapters you will find a very complete “Christology” (the doctrine of who Jesus Christ is).
Secondly, in the book of Colossians you will find a very good summary of what it means to be converted. There are important themes of alienation and reconciliation, our transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ (1:13), what it means to live a life worthy of the Lord (1:9-12), how we were dead in our sins but are now made alive in Christ (2:9-15), the putting off of the old self and putting on the new self (ch. 3), and how being a believer affects our relationships (ch. 3).
Take heart, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing”! (1:6)
If you’re on track with our 5x5x5 plan, we have just finished the book of James, and are starting Matthew. Though we have already read one account of Jesus’ life in the book of Mark, you will find that Matthew’s story is from a different point of view. Imagine two of your close friends – if an outsider asked each of them to tell your life story, they would probably tell it slightly differently, each highlighting things they thought were important or particularly memorable. Your life story hasn’t changed, it is simply told from a different perspective!
Matthew was a Jew, a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus. He writes to a Jewish audience using metaphors and references they would be familiar with. In fact, Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament author. The book of Matthew is the first in our New testament because it serves a bridge from the Old to New Testament. From the very first sentence Matthew makes it clear, he is connecting Jesus’ arrival with the Old Testament story line… a story that begins back with Abraham, Moses, the people of Israel, and a line of kings.
The Jews had been waiting thousands of years for a Messiah, a King – but Jesus and His kingdom were completely different from what the Jews expected. We learn more about the King (Jesus) and the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s collection of Jesus’ teachings including the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), Jesus’ interaction with people, and the parables (Mt 13-25).
As you read and reflect on Matthew here are some ideas to help you discover the riches of this gospel: Look up some the references to the Old Testament, highlight all of the commands Jesus gives, mark the word “kingdom” as you read, or simply ask the question, “Who is Jesus? What is he like?” and record what you discover in jour journal.
Persevere in your reading! One chapter a day is not too much! — Mindy