Explore the writings of the New Testament using the story of Jesus as the starting point. This survey of the testament looks at how the early church took ownership of and was shaped by the story of Jesus and how the church learned how to develop as disciples and create communities of faith.
Participants find a deeper conversation with the writers of the New Testament and a renewal of our commitment to be shaped — personally and communally — by the story of Jesus. The study is accessible for adults with little prior Bible experience.
In the weekly video segments, listen as scholars fascinate you with facts and information that opens new understanding and enlightenment for your group. In the second video, sit in on a table conversation between guest scholars and debate key issues in the text.
Participants gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the New Testament as an integral part of the Christian Bible and a renewed discovery of our identity in God and God's vision for all things.
This eight-week study includes a participant book outlining daily reading assignments for group preparations, a leader guide suggesting discussion activities for use in the 60–90-minute weekly meeting, and a video component providing interpretation and context for the biblical texts.Sessions:
- Jesus Calls Us Into God's Redemption Story
- Jesus Calls Us to a Transformed Life
- Jesus Calls Us to Minister to a Hostile World
- Jesus Calls Us to Complex Communities of Faith
- Jesus Calls Us to Serve One Another
- Jesus Calls Us to a New Relationship With Tradition
- Jesus Calls Us to Live in Light of His Coming Again
- Jesus Calls Us to Experience the Gifts of His Dying and Rising
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About the Author
Emerson B. Powery, Professor of Biblical Studies at Messiah College, was a contributor to the Wesley Study Bible and co-authored Invitation to the New Testament (a short-term DISCIPLE Bible study). He wrote Jesus Reads Scripture and was one of the lead editors for True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. Powery received a Master of Divinitydegree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in New Testament and Christian
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Invitation to the New Testament
By David deSilva, Emerson Powery
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2005 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Jesus Calls Us into God's Redemption Story
Who do you say that I am?" Since Jesus first confronted his disciples with this question (Matt 16:15), the way we answer the question has direct consequences for how we will relate to God and respond to the invitation to new life found in the New Testament. In this week's readings, we explore anew why early Christians called Jesus the "Son of Abraham," "Son of David," and "Son of God," and what such faith statements tell us about how encountering Jesus involves us in God's larger work of redeeming a people for God.
As you read this week's assignments, observe carefully (1) what claims are being made about Jesus' identity, (2) what significance these claims are said to have for us in terms of our connection with God, and (3) what responses are reflected or promoted in each text as people encounter this Jesus.
DAY ONE: Matthew 1–4
Throughout Matthew we find a special interest in developing connections between Jesus' life and teaching and the revelation of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. Pay attention to the ways in which Matthew roots Jesus in the story of God's people, Israel, and the specific connections he makes with that story.
DAY TWO: Luke 1–4
The opening of Luke reads like many passages about God's redemptive activity in the Old Testament, even as it redirects the hope of the Old Testament away from the "Jewish nation" to a more inclusive "people of God." Pay special attention to the statements about how God's promises find their fruition in Jesus, and how the early Christians' understanding of those promises is being transformed.
DAY THREE: Acts 2:22-39; 3:13-26; Galatians 3
These three passages examine the significance of Jesus within the larger plan of God from several different angles. Note carefully again how Jesus connects with God's long-standing plans and promises, and what God makes available to people in Jesus.
DAY FOUR: John 1; Hebrews 1–2
Today's readings make some of the loftiest claims about Jesus to be found anywhere in the New Testament. Reflect as you read on what these texts have to say about the relationship between encountering Jesus and knowing God.
DAY FIVE: John 6:22-71; Acts 9:1-31
These two stories bring into sharp focus the strong reactions people have as they encounter Jesus and claims made regarding Jesus' identity and significance. As you read, observe what factors contribute to making an encounter with Jesus positively life-changing, and what factors contribute to rejection of Jesus.
DAY SIX: Read the commentary in the participant book.
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
Tracing a family tree is a strange beginning for a book by modern standards, hardly an attention-grabber. But for Matthew and his first readers, a genealogy was an important statement about a person's significance. It located a person in a particular family with a particular story and thereby located a person in the world. Where we might start by highlighting individual achievement, "identity" for Matthew starts with a person's community and ancestry.
The first thing Matthew wants to say about Jesus is that he is deeply rooted in the story of Israel and, indeed, is the natural outworking and culmination of that story. Israel's story is a story about God's promises to bring peace and wholeness to humankind through God's chosen means. God promised Abraham a sea of descendants, through whom all nations would be blessed: "I will bless those who bless you ... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:3; see also Gen 22:18). Similarly, God promised David a descendant whose throne God would "establish forever" and with whom God would relate as Father to child: "I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me" (2 Sam 7:14; see also Ps 2:7). Matthew shows from the opening paragraph how Jesus, as descendant of Abraham and David, is an appropriate person through whom God's promises to Abraham and David would find their fulfillment and their stories find a climax.
Matthew's genealogy is not just a list of names. It is a theological statement about Jesus. He arranges this genealogy so that there are exactly fourteen generations between the significant points in Israel's story: God's selection of Abraham as the vehicle for blessing; God's selection of David as the vehicle for God's rule; the apparent collapse of the promises in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile; the birth of Jesus, in whom all God's promises are renewed and Israel's fortunes restored (Matt 1:17-18). By doing so, Matthew subtly hints that God's divine plan is thus working itself out in a measured and orderly way, leading through the history of Israel to the coming of Jesus. It is all the more apparent that Matthew's genealogy is crafted to make certain points rather than simply supply a list of ancestors as with Luke's genealogy (Luke 3:23-38).
Both the Matthean and Lucan genealogies, however, push beyond the traditional lines within community. Matthew includes four women, three of whom (Rahab, Ruth, and "the wife of Uriah") are non-Jews and three of whom (Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth) highlight "anomalous" conceptions in some way, underscoring the place of both women and Gentiles in the community of God. Luke presses further, tracing Jesus' genealogy past Abraham all the way back to Adam and to God. Since Abraham is known primarily as the ancestor of the Jewish nation, tracing Jesus' lineage back to Adam and to God brings out the universal scope of God's action on behalf of humanity both in creation and in the sending of Jesus not only for the benefit of the Jewish people but also for the benefit of all people, bringing together into one body the one humanity God originally created us to be.
GOD REMEMBERS GOD'S PROMISES
Luke's story of the annunciation and birth of Jesus resonates deeply with Matthew's desire to connect Jesus with Abraham and David. The angel's announcement and the songs of Mary and Zechariah all proclaim that, in Jesus' birth, God "makes good" on the promises God gave to Abraham and David (Luke 1:32-33, 54-55, 68-73). Jesus' coming is the fruit of God "remembering" God's mercy to help Israel and "remembering" God's covenant with Israel (Luke 1:54, 72). The point is that the first place to look for clues about Jesus' significance is to the faith and hope of Israel.
Paul also does this to an extraordinary degree. Even while he is arguing that following Jesus means that the Jewish law is no longer the binding rule on the community, he anchors faith in Jesus in God's promise to Abraham. Looking closely at the actual wording of the promise, Paul notices that the text of Genesis 12:7 and 22:17-18 actually says that the promise is given to Abraham "and to his seed" (Gal 3:16). Of course, "seed" might more naturally refer to all Abraham's offspring; but Paul uses a familiar Jewish technique of biblical interpretation—looking at the literal sense of the Scripture. Paul therefore identifies Jesus as the "seed" of Abraham through whom the promised blessing would come to all the nations, namely that "we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal 3:14).
Another way that New Testament writers root Jesus in the distinctive hope and theology of the Hebrew Scriptures is by seeing the details of his life and the lives of those around him (like John the Baptizer) reflected in the prophecies and psalms of the Old Testament. This is the role of what are called the "prophecy and fulfillment" formulas in Matthew 1:22-23; 2:6, 15, 18; 3:1516: "All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet...." By means of these side comments, Matthew invites us to see some facet of Old Testament promise becoming reality in the life of Jesus. On one hand, we could criticize Matthew for not reading those Old Testament texts in the context of early Israelite history. On the other hand, we could appreciate the way Matthew sees the whole history of Israel from its Exodus (Matt 2:15) to its Exile (Matt 2:18) to its hope for renewal (Matt 1:22-23; 2:6; 3:15-16) taking on flesh and fulfillment in the life of Jesus.
SON OF DAVID, SON OF GOD
In his most mature statement of his gospel, Paul speaks of Jesus as "Son of David," in terms of his human lineage, and "Son of God," by virtue of his resurrection (Rom 1:3-4). Both of these titles are closely related in the New Testament since the royal ideology of ancient Israel depicted the Davidic monarch as God's Son. When God promises David a descendant to rule after him, God says: "I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me" (2 Sam 7:14). Likewise, at religious festivals celebrating the enthronement of the Davidic king, singers would intone the words of Psalm 2 on behalf of the king: "I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me: 'You are my son; today I have begotten you'" (Ps 2:7).
This background helps us see that it was not so far a leap for early Christians to talk about Jesus' relationship to God in terms of Father and Son (as in Hebrews 1:1-6; Acts 2:34-35, which explicitly quote the royal psalms and other psalms connected with David), once they identified him as the promised heir to the throne of David. The fact that God would "give to him the throne of his ancestor David" naturally meant that he would also "be called the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:32). Here, as in Paul's understanding of Abraham's singular "seed," Jesus is also understood not as one heir among many, but the heir to David's throne and as God's Son. The narratives that identify the Holy Spirit as the begetter of Jesus (Matt 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35) also give clear witness to the conviction of the early church: Jesus is God's Son and, as heir of David, epitomizes how God provides leadership for God's people. As Matthew will make clear, this is the leadership of a servant, a redeemer who gives his life for the deliverance of his people.
The New Testament writers do not stop with traditions about David and his heir, however. They also look to Jewish traditions about "Wisdom" to talk about who Jesus is. Wisdom is a rather abstract idea about the divine ordering of the cosmos and about how we must perceive that order to live intelligently. Jewish writers, however, began to personify Wisdom, presenting her as a female spirit-being who stood as mediator between God and creation, and between God and humanity, connecting people to God as they walked in accordance with Wisdom. She was created at the very beginning of God's creative activity (Prov 8:22) and worked alongside God in the creation of heaven and earth and in the ongoing maintenance of the world (Prov 8:27-31; Wis 8:1; 9:9). The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from the turn of the era found in the Apocrypha, goes even further, depicting Wisdom as "a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty ... a reflection of eternal light ... and an image of his goodness" (Wis 7:25-26), who enters human souls and "makes them friends of God" (Wis 7:27).
The clear stamp of these traditions can be seen in the attributes of the "Son" as "the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" in Hebrews 1:2-3, as "image of the invisible God" in Colossians 1:15-17, and in the activity of the Word in creation in John 1:1-18. Early Christians discovered the new face of Wisdom in the face of Jesus. In Jesus we see how God interacts with creation in life-giving, life-sustaining, order-creating ways. John goes even further. Because the Son is the clear reflection of the Father, just as Wisdom was the "shine" (better than "reflection") produced by God's "light," Jesus is the "exegesis"—the studied explanation and "unpacking"—of the very character of God (John 1:18). To see him is to see the unseen God and thus to come to understand the holiness of God in terms of the love, mercy, and restorative compassion shown and taught by Jesus.
WHERE THIS STORY IS HEADING
The language about Jesus as the Son of God does not emphasize the distance between Jesus and us. Rather, this title shows how fully Jesus as God's Son became human and entered flesh so as to bring us close to himself and to God: "since ... the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things" (Heb 2:14; see also 2:10-18). Both Matthew and Luke underscore Jesus' identity as "Son of God" not just in the birth stories, but also in the stories of Jesus' baptism and temptation. In the stories of his baptism, Jesus identifies himself so closely with humanity's need to respond to God with repentant heart that he is declared by God's own voice to be "my Son, the Beloved" (Matt 3:17; Luke 3:22). As Son of God, Jesus shows us that our journey back to God begins in the waters of baptism and in the change of heart and life that this signifies. In the accounts of his temptation, Satan tests Jesus' identity as "God's Son" (Matt 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9) and what it means to act as God's Son in the world. Here we find a window into how Jesus learned to be a "sympathetic high priest" who knows what it means to be tested by life's trials and enticements, so we can rely on him for the help we need, following him as the children of God (Heb 2:17-18; see also 4:14-15). It is also here that we see how Jesus entered into single combat with Satan on our behalf to "free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death" (Heb 2:15). This combat was not complete until Jesus embraced death in obedience to God, winning the struggle that all of the many sons and daughters would face as they, too, would be assailed by both threats and enticements to give up the pursuit of life with God.
Jesus' identity as "Son of God" is ultimately, then, about his opening up of a way for us to be reborn as "children of God," to be saved from our sins (Matt 1:21), and to live a life "with God" made possible by "Emmanuel ... God is with us" (Matt 1:23). We see the first steps of that path here in the renunciation of the self-serving life of sin through baptism and through the ongoing contest against the Enemy of our souls. As the story unfolds, we will see in Jesus' teachings an example of what it means to follow this Son to glory.
INVITATION TO DISCIPLESHIP
When people encounter Jesus and are confronted with the claims concerning his identity and significance, they can respond in several different ways. How we respond is of decisive importance.
Confronted with Jesus' own claim to embody the work of the Servant of God described by Isaiah (Isa 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-21) and with Jesus' explanation that this Servant comes not to serve the national and ethnic interests of Judeans but the renewal of all people (observed in Luke 4:25-27 and in the inclusiveness of Matthew's genealogy), Jesus' own townspeople respond with violent rejection. Do we have room in our lives for a Jesus who challenges our dearly held boundaries and invites us into a larger vision for the community of faith?
Confronted by their neighbors' hostile response to their faith in Jesus, and by marginalization in society, some of the Christians addressed by the Letter to the Hebrews begin to seek a way back into their former, comfortable lives. By "neglecting to meet together" (Heb 10:24-25), they also stand in danger of neglecting the Word God speaks to them in the Son (Heb 2:1-4) and are challenged to keep responding fully and appropriately to the Son's invitation. Do we place the priority on responding to Jesus' invitation in a way appropriate to his value as the Son of God, or do our priorities show a dangerous neglect of his word?
Confronted with the need to repent and return to God (Matt 3:1-10; Luke 3:114; Acts 2:37-39; 3:19-21), to change the entire direction of their lives (Acts 9), many allow themselves to be "cut to the heart" and begin again. Do we have the humility before God to acknowledge the distance between our lives and God's desires and the courage to start in a new direction?
Challenged with Jesus' invitation to leave behind the trade, the village, and the life they knew so well, two sets of brothers set out into the unknown future of following wherever Jesus leads (Matt 4:18-22). Do we so understand the surpassing value of walking with Jesus that we, too, would rather journey with him than stay in our areas of comfort and familiarity? "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).CHAPTER 2
Jesus Calls Us to a Transformed Life
Following Jesus is not just about believing the right things concerning Jesus; it is also about living according to his example and teaching. Jesus, James, Paul, and other New Testament voices all emphasize this point: discipleship means the pursuit of a just and holy life that is fully pleasing to God. In this regard, they continue the invitation of Moses and the prophets to a transformed life but now with a special emphasis on the gift of the Holy Spirit, who guides the disciple in, and empowers the disciple for, living that transformed life.
As you read this week's assigned Scripture texts, take special note of the ways that following Jesus should shape our everyday attitudes and behaviors. What are Jesus' expectations for his followers? What practical differences do Paul and James expect "calling Jesus 'Lord'" to make in the disciple's life? What roles do both "faith" and "works" play in our lives?
DAY ONE: Matthew 5–7
The Sermon on the Mount lays out a bold and challenging vision for a life that is "righteous" before God. Look for the reasons Jesus gives for embracing this vision and for what these ethical teachings tell us about God.
DAY TWO: James
In a manner reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount at many points, James also describes behaviors that are in keeping with life in God and behaviors that are more in keeping with the untransformed life. Pay attention once again to the reasons that James gives for these ethical guidelines and what he has to say about integrity of belief and action.
Excerpted from Invitation to the New Testament by David deSilva, Emerson Powery. Copyright © 2005 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
SESSION 1: Jesus Calls Us into God's Redemption Story,
SESSION 2: Jesus Calls Us to a Transformed Life,
SESSION 3: Jesus Calls Us to Minister to a Hostile World,
SESSION 4: Jesus Calls Us to Complex Communities of Faith,
SESSION 5: Jesus Calls Us to Serve One Another,
SESSION 6: Jesus Calls Us to a New Relationship with Tradition,
SESSION 7: Jesus Calls Us to Live in Light of His Coming Again,
SESSION 8: Jesus Calls Us to Experience the Gifts of His Dying and Rising,
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