At this time, we will still not be meeting in person for Sunday School. The lessons will continue to be posted on Sunday mornings, as we have been doing.
When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns with each other. Take some time to think back on your week, and consider the joys and concerns you have. They may include for you personally, for other people, or for the wider world. The prayer below comes from Christianity.com. We will all pray the beginning of the prayer (in italics) together. In the middle, pray for your particular joys and concerns. Then, the end (in italics) will again be together.
We confess our need for you today. We need your healing and your grace. We need hope restored. We need to be reminded that you work on behalf of those you love, constantly, powerfully, completely. Forgive us for trying to fix our situations all on our own. Forgive us for running all different directions and spinning our wheels to find help, when true help and healing must be found first in You. Forgive us for forgetting how much we need you, above everyone and everything else. We come to you and bring you the places we are hurting.
[Take some time here to pray for the joys and concerns that you have.]
You see where no one else is able to fully see or understand. You know the pain we've carried. The burdens. The cares. You know where we need to be set free. We ask for your healing and grace to cover every broken place. Every wound. Every heartache. Thank you that you are able to do far more than we could ever imagine. Thank you for your Mighty Power that acts on behalf of your children. We reach out to you, and know that you are restoring and redeeming every place of difficulty, every battle, for your greater glory. Thank you that you will never waste our pain and suffering. We love you. We need you today. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Our lesson comes from our adult Sunday School book. Scripture references are linked to an online text. These will be bold and underlined. Just click on the link to open the passage in a new window.
This month, we are starting a new topic: The Embodiment of Wisdom
Wisdom became incarnate in Jesus. The Gospel writers emphasized that Jesus was an unexpected and even unwelcome source of wisdom. As a boy, Jesus’ understanding of Scripture flabbergasted the religious teachers of his day. His eccentric prophet, John the Baptist, preached in the badlands of Israel instead of from the comfort of the temple. The unprecedentedness of God’s wisdom taking human form was highlighted when Jesus was rejected upon returning to his hometown.
Jesus captured the Hebrew concept of wisdom as a road to be followed when he declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). Wisdom could no longer be viewed merely as a collection of principles with which to organize one’s life. In order to be wise, one must hear the words of Jesus, believe them, and then follow after him.
Our scripture for this week is Matthew 11:7-19.
Introduction: Love It or Hate It
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder … or the tongue of the taster or ear of the listener. We all make distinctions between what is good and what is bad, and sometimes these opinions are no more than person taste. In the end, they don’t really matter. How you decorate your home (or choose not to) is a matter of preference, one that can lead to conflict with others in the house who disagree. But there is no real right or wrong.
When preparing dinner, you may not have strong feelings about carrots, but you probably do about Brussels sprouts and beets -- if you even eat them! Some music blends into the background, while other songs you turn up and sing along to -- or maybe turn off to stop the assault on your ears. The same may be true of movies or TV shows: most are average, neither great nor horrible. But others divide us between fans and critics.
Today’s text explores the seemingly vast gulf between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ -- and the variety of opinions surrounding them. Many loved them; many hated them. Yet loving or hating these two is very different from loving or hating carpeting or cushions, music or movies. Choosing to hate these two, even in their differences, is choosing to hate God’s wisdom.
The Gospel of Matthew is one of four books in the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Through Jesus, God was restoring his rule over his world, setting right what human rebellion had made wrong. Matthew put special focus on the surprising way in which God fulfilled his promises to Israel in Jesus.
For instance, we might expect God’s true king to be warmly received. But in fact, Jesus met with hostility from his infancy (examples: Matthew 2:13; Matthew 21:45-46; Matthew 27:20). Jesus warned his followers that they would meet with similar opposition (Matthew 10:14-25, 34-36).
The same hostility is seen in the arrest and death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12), which foreshadowed Jesus’ own crucifixion (Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16; Matthew 27:32-44). Yet this very climax of the hostility against God’s wisdom was the means by which God fulfilled his wisdom, for Jesus died not merely as an innocent victim but as the willing and worthy sacrifice for the sins of humanity (Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28).
God’ victory came through rejection, death, and resurrection. Nothing could have been more contrary to expectations In an episode preceding out text, the (to human thinking) upside-down wisdom of God proved confusing even to John the Baptist, the prophet who announced the nearness of God’s reign and the coming of his true king (Matthew 3:1-3, 11-12).
John had clearly identified Jesus as that promised king and had witnessed God’s affirmation of Jesus as beloved Son (Matthew 3:13-17). John had been imprisoned for his declaration that Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, was wrong to have taken his brother’s wife as his own (Matthew 11:2a; Matthew 14:3-4). John became distressed and sent messengers to ask Jesus whether he was indeed the promised king, as John had previously proclaimed (Matthew 11:2b-3). John’s question expressed either doubt or impatience as he languished in prison.
Jesus’ response affirmed that he was indeed the promised coming one (Matthew 11:4-5). But what did that imply about John? Had his impatience or doubt demonstrated him to be a failure as God’s prophet?
When we are able to meet in person, we talk about the lesson each week. This can involve our reactions to the scripture, or how we relate the lesson to our lives. Sometimes, these questions can be hard, and there may not be a definitively right answer. Take some time to think about each question. If you are working through the lesson with someone else, discuss your answers together. If you would like, you can share your thoughts in the comments section below our lesson.
If we think that the wisdom of God is bound to meet with universal acceptance, the New Testament tells us otherwise. The gospel has always been sharply divisive. Jesus inspired joyous faith from may but received powerful, even violent, opposition from others. God’s wisdom appeals to some people as it addresses their deepest needs. But it repels others as it challenges their self-rule.
For those expecting a kingdom to come with military and political power, Jesus seemed the opposite of God’s true king. For those who expected God to bring an immediate end to injustice and suffering, Jesus’ idea of God’s kingdom seemed absurd. But for those with ears to hear and eyes to see, Jesus brings the fulfillment of every divine promise and the answer to every human need. That he was rejected comes as no surprise to us, for God’s messengers have always been rejected by many.
How do you deal with the tension of God’s kingdom, which is both now and yet to be? Circumstances can prove discouraging at times, but trusting that Christ reigns now and will reign fully in the future can provide strength and encouragement to meet even the biggest challenges. Those included even the challenge of Herod’s prison for John and the challenge of the cross for Jesus. In the strength we have in Christ, we witness the vindication of God’s wisdom.
Father, as we rely on your power in good times and bad, teach us to trust your wisdom. May we not be so self-centered that we fail to hear your wisdom -- wisdom that corrects wrong ideas and expectations. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The benediction this week is from the New King James Version.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.