A Virgin Will Be with Child

Discussion Guide for Luke 1:26-38

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
– Isaiah 7:14

“I believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, light of light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made Man;”
– Nicene Creed

One of the best parts of Christmas is that it’s a holiday meant for children. We take great joy in the traditions we get to share with our children: presents, games, and teaching the story of Christmas so they can tell it back to us.

Even though we rightfully gear most of our Christmas activities to children, there is one crucial element every child has heard, but cannot understand or appreciate until adulthood. That element is the virgin birth.

After being present for the entire process of bringing four children into the world, I can now fully understand the absurdity of the idea of a virgin birth to the natural mind.

If a cult began today that said that Kurt Cobain was born of a virgin, we would dismiss it as sheer stupidity and have many good laughs at the expense of such a cult. People would produce a birth certificate and eyewitness accounts that Kurt Cobain had a mother and father, that there was, in fact, a sexual relationship between Kurt Cobain’s mother and father, and that Kurt Cobain lived a flawed life that indicated he is every bit as human as the rest of us.

The significance of Luke’s account of a virgin birth is that he is writing about the same amount of time after Jesus as someone would be writing today about Kurt Cobain. Luke was meticulously showing that a prophesied event had come to pass. There was ample opportunity for living people at the time to refute the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin. Yet the early church was born and thrived holding as a central tenet that Jesus was begotten by God and born of a virgin. This birth must be something extraordinarily special!

Even though no one could refute the facts of the birth of Jesus, the virgin birth has been a stumbling block for belief in Jesus from the earliest days of Christianity.

Interestingly, for many early gnostics (a group of early-church heretics), the problem of the virgin birth was not with the word “virgin” but with the word “birth.” They “knew” that God was spirit and would not defile himself with flesh. It was impossible that Jesus could have been born of a woman. Birth, after all, is a very dirty and human process unfit for a deity.

The Arians, heretics for whom the Nicene Creed was written to refute, later contended that Jesus could not have existed in eternity as God. The fact that he was born proved for the Arians that Jesus was a created being who merely possessed special divine attributes.

The ecumenical creeds from Nicene (325) to Chalcedon (451) went to great lengths to precisely define Jesus’ relationship with the Father as the New Testament defines it: “begotten, not made.” The theological implication of the virgin birth is that Jesus is fully God and fully man, of one substance with the Father, possessing none of man’s sin nature, but with two natures wholly existing in one person. This is known as the “hypostatic union.”

We need to understand what is at stake today when folks claim either that the virgin birth did not happen or that it does not matter (as Rob Bell famously did in his popular book, Velvet Elvis).

Science tells us that that a virgin birth could not happen. No need for us to explain the birds and bees here. If you close your mind to any knowledge that might be supernatural, then it is impossible to accept a virgin birth.

A Christian must accept that while science is a vitally important way of understanding the order with which God created the universe, it cannot give us the tools to understand how God intervenes in that order supernaturally.

It’s always curious to me that Stephen Hawking tells us that miracles don’t exist because science does not possess the tools with which to explain the realm of miracles. Angels did not bring messages because science does not document angels bringing messages. He then turns around and says that aliens absolutely must exist because humans do not yet have to tools to see into realm of aliens. This should be an obvious logical fallacy.

Discussion Questions

  • What have been your own struggles with coming to terms with something as absurd to our natural minds as a virgin birth?
  • Does the story of the virgin birth give you more confidence or less confidence in the rest of the Bible? Why or why not?
  • Do you think the faith through which we are saved is any different than the faith with which Mary received the message of Gabriel?
  • How do you think Mary is often misunderstood by our traditions?
  • How does Mary serve as a person of inspiration to Christians today?
  • Have you changed your opinion today about the importance of the virgin birth?
  • Does the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth give you confidence to place your faith in Him and proclaim him as the only savior?

Related Resources

Providence

Discussion Guide for Luke 1

In the past week, we celebrated an annual event known as Thanksgiving. The idea of giving thanks for blessings in life is rooted in the core Christian doctrine of Providence. The Westminster Catechism explains this doctrine in this way:

What are God’s works of providence?

God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.

We don’t hear about providence in life as much today as our Puritan forefathers did. The very thought that God has more control over the details of our lives than we do is offensive to the modern idea of human autonomy. In our pride, we want to believe that we have the ultimate control over our own destiny.

The evidence of Scripture, however, is that God is the autonomous One and we are to live at His bidding. He does what He wants, when He wants, how He wants, and He doesn’t need our strength or wisdom to accomplish what He intends to accomplish!

Notice that the Catechism does not contend that creatures are devoid of wills and actions of their own. We make choices every day of our lives. But God takes our choices and orders them in such a way that when we look at the grand scope of history, His glory and His purposes are not thwarted by ours.

Young people today often say “everything happens for a reason,” but they fail to look much deeper at what those reasons might be. We often think of providence in looking back at how God orders events of our lives in such a way as to provide an outcome that brings us joy, health, or prosperity.

In the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, the greatest example of God’s providence is in the way He chose to bring salvation to a human race that was utterly incapable of saving itself.

One pithy explanation of the Old versus New Testament is “Promises Made and Promises Kept.” Keeping this simple explanation in mind can be of enormous help in making sense of the Old Testament.

The first chapters in each Gospel go to great lengths to demonstrate that they did not arrive out of nowhere. The coming of Jesus to the earth was the continuation and fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecy. God was fulfilling promises He made throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.

Many of the Old Testament quotations in Luke come directly from the prophets. God had revealed his plan over many centuries prior to Jesus and used the intervening generations to set up a grand narrative of redemption.

If you have a good reference Bible, you will learn a lot about the Bible by simply looking up each one of the OT Scripture references that are either in the footnotes or the notes between the columns of your Bible in Luke 1.

The story of John the Baptist is rightly overshadowed by the story of Jesus. John, after all, had been prophesied in Isaiah 40 as one “who would prepare the way of the Lord.” (See Luke 3).

But the birth of John the Baptist in and of itself was big news in its day. John would a prophet who carried the banner of the great man, Elijah.

It is difficult to imagine the double surprise of an old barren couple getting news that they will have a son, and that he will be the first (and last) prophet in four hundred years.

Personally, I would be overjoyed at the prospect of having a son, but I would be very disturbed by the prospect of my son being a prophet. I would much rather my son be a doctor, a lawyer, an athlete, or a scientist. Those professions are honorable and carry success.

Prophets, on the other hand, are very seldom heeded; they make a lot of people angry; They usually end up murdered, incarcerated, or exiled. But Zechariah doesn’t feel that his son is cursed.

You can tell that Zechariah has a keen understanding of God, sin and faith (even though he falters in faith when faced with the choice to believe that God can actually provide him a son.) Zechariah sees the message of repentance as vitally necessary to God’s plan to save. He rejoices that he and his family have front-row seats to the miraculous plan of God in redeeming His people.

Much had happened in the life of the nation of Israel between the exile to Babylon and the announcement of John’s birth.

The temple had been rebuilt twice and a serious priesthood had been reestablished to serve in the task of connecting the people to Yahweh.

God over many generations had miraculously delivered his faithful worshippers from the external threats posed by pagan overlords.

Even with a king of questionable repute on the throne (Herod) and paying tribute to an oppressive emperor in Rome (Caesar), the self-conscious distinctiveness of the Jewish people as belonging to Yahweh had grown through generations of poverty and persecution. This is evident in the quiet, reverent lives led by Zechariah and Elizabeth.

God had orchestrated the events of history to breed the type of character in his people that would herald the message the of the Gospel of Jesus in the world!

Beginning with Zechariah and Elizabeth, we see a pattern of God using people who think they are forgotten, who think they are cursed, who think they are “nobodies from nowhere”, and who lack extraordinary talents. He makes them central characters in the unfolding of His plan of salvation.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the echoes of the story of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis) and Hannah (1 Samuel) in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth?
  • How would you feel if you were in the shoes of Zechariah or Elizabeth?
  • Do you think Zechariah and Elizabeth felt more joy for themselves or for the salvation of their people?
  • What do Zechariah and Elizabeth teach us about faith?
  • Have you come to a point in life where you feel that God controls more than you do?
  • How does our understanding of providence help or hinder our faith?
  • Can you look back at times in your own life where God ordered events to bring about His purposes for your life, but you couldn’t see God working in the middle of it?
  • How much greater is your joy looking backward today than it was in the midst of that time when you experienced providence?
  • How does providence relate to salvation?

Additional Resources

Biblical Parenting

Discussion Guide for Ephesian 6:1-4 

“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain…..Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
– Psalm 127:1,3-5

Parenting seems to be the one topic in our culture that everyone has an opinion about. We all feel our own parenting style is superior to everybody else’s.

I am certainly not immune to this.

We have all been in a social situation where we think to ourselves, “why don’t those people make their kids behave?”

Of course, the moment I begin to think that way my own kids go crazy and completely ignore whatever I am trying to teach them! 

We live in a culture that professes to love kids and value parenting. But when you look at the way the typical American lives his and her life, the upbringing and nurturing of children does not seem to be much of a priority.

Careers, outside relationships, entertainment, hobbies, and materialism too often take precedence over parenting in everyday life.

Just as selfishness has sabotaged marriage it has also destroyed many parent/child relationships. Particularly destructive is the fact that these mindsets are typically taught to the next generation of parents, creating a vicious cycle.

The antidote to our culture’s destructive ways of parenting is to saturate our families with the Bible. Here we can see the beauty, value, and eternal rewards that come from bringing up children to know and love God.

The whole lifestyle of being a parent is itself tiring, humbling, thankless, and far beyond the realm of “expert opinions.” God’s Word teaches, however, that when parenting is done in glad submission to Christ, the end result is more fruitful and rewarding than anything else we could ever do with our lives.

The fruit of parenting is harvested in the lives of the children, the parents, and society as a whole.

Keep in mind that the Bible does not teach many methods for being a parent (although there are a few, such as the loving use of the physical discipline, instructing in the Bible, and worshipping with your children). Methods often change by culture and life situation.

What the Bible mostly gives us are rock solid principles for effective parenting. Principles never change. They hold tried and true wisdom for how to raise a successful generation of kids who know and love God.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some principles of parenting that you have read in the Bible?
  • How do you implement those principles in your methods of parenting?
  • Have you ever had to change how you parent?
  • Why are honor and obedience (Ephesians 6:1-2) so critically essential for your children to learn?
  • How do you teach your children to honor and obey?
  • What do honor and obedience teach children about God?
  • How do parents stand in the way of their children knowing God?
  • How do parents make it easier for their children to know God?
  • How does discipline and instruction contrast with provoking children to anger (Ephesians 6:4)?
  • What is the role of a father in teaching children to be self-controlled?
  • What is the role of a mother in teaching children to be independent?
  • How is your home like a mini-church?
  • Can you characterize your home life as “loving God and having fun together?”

Related Resources

Servant-Leadership in the Home

Discussion Guide for Ephesians 5:25-33

This is not a sermon series about the Song of Solomon, but the book does give us a very powerful picture of what God intends for marriage to be.

When reading Song of Solomon, notice how many times marriage is compared to a garden. God makes this comparison for good reasons.

  1. Marriage is one important place on earth where sinful man can experience the blessing of the personal presence God (i.e. the Garden of Eden).
  2. Marriage takes work. It must be cultivated, watered, cared for, and prayed over.

Only after a long period of producing favorable conditions can we see the full result and blessing of marriage (i.e. the fruit). Marriage is not a short-term contract but a lifetime covenant!

We live in a culture where many people acknowledge the need for good leadership, but very few people are willing to put in the effort to become great leaders.

It is striking that a conversation of Biblical masculinity is essentially about how the Bible defines leadership. This necessarily points to the example of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church.

A Christian view of leadership understands it as an act of service. Effective leaders must lead their people the way that Christ does: by serving them.

We saw last week that women fulfill a God-like leadership role when they become helpers in their marriage. Men, likewise, are following a role that Christ lays out when they function in headship over the home. The short answer of how to be a better husband or a better wife is to be a follower of Jesus! When, as a husband, I fail to love my wife, my real failure is in recognizing the love that Christ has for me.

The American evangelical church is at a crisis in our lack of understanding of sanctification. While conversion to Christ is absolutely essential for eternal life, we have developed an unhealthy obsession with one-time conversion experiences. The American church has lost the notion that the only way to know that you belong to Christ is by abiding in Him every single day.

Anybody can cry, pray a prayer, have a religious experience, and be baptized. Only those who have a relationship with Christ can even begin to walk daily in glad submission to Him.

We see a parallel with this crisis in marriage.

How many couples spend years of planning and tens of thousands of dollars to create one special day known as a wedding? How many storybook weddings have you attended that either ended in divorce or with a husband and wife who have no meaningful life-giving connection to one another?

Is a wedding ceremony necessary? Absolutely! Covenants are made on purpose, not by accident.

But what value is a wedding unless it defines the beginning of a husband and wife truly coming together as one flesh?

Every couple I have ever married has been given this simple piece of advice in pre-marital counseling. You had better be spending far more time planning for your marriage than you spend planning for your wedding. Your wedding is guaranteed to be a good experience just because you show up for it. Your marriage, on the other hand, will only produce the fruit that you are cultivating.

We could spend hours and hours talking about the parallels between the union of husband and wife and the union between Christ. Ephesians sums all of these up with the notions of submission and unconditional love.

Christ loves his people so much that he was willing to experience hell for them. His people can only experience life when they submit their interests to the greater call that Christ places on their lives.

A husband and wife can only experience unity when they die to their own interests and place the interests of each other as the greatest good in their own lives. The wife primarily does this through Biblical submission. The husband primarily does this through selfless love.

The husband and wife must both experience love and submission. The wife should seek every day to build her husband up as a man. The husband should daily seek to lead his wife to become more and more spiritually beautiful.

The wedding only makes sense when husband and wife love and submit to each other every single day that follows. This is why we often say that marriage is hard, but worth every bit of effort!

Questions for husbands:

If your wife is a garden, what fruit are you trying to grow in her life?

How is your love for your wife stirring her to:

  1. Love Jesus more than she does today?
  2. Grow in confidence as a person?
  3. Experience life and love?
  4. Prosper as the unique person God made her?
  5. Live in submission to Christ?
  6. Grow in Biblical femininity?
  7. Live in spiritual victory?

What do you communicate to your wife through your actions?

  1. Is your wife just a sex object?
  2. Is your wife only a support system to help you achieve your goals?
  3. Is your wife a convenient relationship?
  4. Is your wife an emotional crutch?
  5. Is your wife part of you? Are you living as one flesh?

How is your love for your wife characterized by self-sacrifice?

Has your wife become a better person since your wedding? How does that reflect on your leadership?

Questions for wives: 

  • How do you receive your husband’s love?
  • Have you told your husband how he can express his love to you?
  • How have you been fulfilled in the midst of sacrificing yourself?
  • Are you ever tempted to replace your relationship with Jesus with your marriage?

Questions for singles:

  • How do you know when a potential mate has the capacity to love you the way Jesus loves you?
  • Should you marry a narcissist?
  • How do you spot a narcissist?
  • Do you expect that your husband/wife will grow as a person?
  • How much should a person change before you agree to marry him/her?
  • What can only be changed by getting married?
  • How do you identify sanctification in your own life? In the life of a potential mate?

Related Study Helps

Submission and Love

Life Group Discussion Guide

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a tremendously influential expository preacher from Wales in the middle of the last century.

His nickname was “The Doctor” because he left an elite career track almost certain to become the personal physician to the King of England to become a “doctor of souls.” He believed that the Word of God was medicine for sickened lives and the only way to bring people healing that would last for eternity.

If you have time in the car or on a run this week, I highly encourage you to listen to some of the many sermons that Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached on Ephesians 5:22-33. They have been of particular help to Austin and me in our understanding of this passage. You can stream his sermons online at MLJTrust.org.

MLJ asserts that the basic reason marriages are a mess is because of our own understanding of the church. If we don’t understand who God called us to be as his people, we will never understand how God wants us to function in a Biblical marriage.

Ephesians 5:21-24 is a short passage jam-packed with Biblical truth. The issue of submission, applied here to the marriage relationship, is one of the central components of living a Christian life. We all are called to live lives of total and complete submission to Jesus. But very few of us have fully submitted every area of our hearts and lives to Him.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a lot of practical advice on the best way for wives to submit. Ephesians 5 simply says to submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord.

The things I have learned mostly come from watching Godly women and men. Their marriages are blessed when they love and cherish their spouses as they love and cherish Christ.

I know the way my parents and grandparents lived. I see the way my wife lives with me. And I love to read biographies of Godly wives of influential Christian leaders.

Women like Katherina Von Bora Luther, Sarah Pierpont Edwards, and Bethan Phillips Lloyd-Jones are truly worth learning about. They were all well-educated and strong women from good families. They had notable personalities, high intelligence, and lots of talent in their own rights. The fact that these capable women can be best known to history by the ways that they supported their husbands gives us a practical display of Biblical submission. They found a greater joy in the willingness to submit personal ambitions and happiness to the success that comes from shared goals.

Lloyd-Jones speaks of women who zealously guard their husband’s masculinity. I can see that trait in every Christian wife whom I admire.

It’s interesting to note that wives are not called to submit on account of the worthiness of their husbands, but on account of Christ. As we talk about how to attain a Godly marriage, it should be abundantly clear that Jesus is the way for marriage.

If your motivation for a Godly marriage is anything other than the fact that Jesus has loved and transformed you, then your efforts will ultimately be for nothing.

The other thing to notice is that Ephesian does not give us is a real-life practical example of wives who submitted. Biographies of Godly wives can be found sprinkled throughout other sections of Scripture. In writing to the church, however, I believe that Paul knows that the best examples for Godly marriage sit right beside us in church.

Our marriages are perfect, but the details of our own success and failure can warn, teach, and encourage those around us. Allow this type of transparent education to influence your Life Group this week.

Questions for Husbands and Wives:

  • Wives: How does your submission to your husband reflect the submission Christ had to the Father in the Gospels?
  • Husbands: How does your love for your wife reflect the love that Christ has for the Church?
  • Wives: How does your role as your husband’s “helper” resemble how the Holy Spirit fills us and completes us to live out all God made us to be?
  • Husbands: How does your leadership of your wife resemble the leadership of Christ in our own lives?
  • Wives: How is your submission to your husband empowering his love for you and how is it inhibiting it?
  • Husbands: How is your love for your wife making her submission a joy? How is your love for your wife leading her to love and submit to Christ?
  • Wives: How is your submission to your husband inspiring Biblical masculinity in him? How are you guarding his masculinity?
  • Husbands: How is your love for your wife leading her to be the woman God intended for her to be? How are you guarding her femininity?
  • Wives: What does your submission to your husband demonstrate about the level of confidence and joy you are experiencing in your relationship with God?
  • Husbands: What does your love for your wife demonstrate about the level of confidence and joy you are experiencing in your relationship with God?
  • All: Who are women you personally know who have practiced Godly submission in their own marriages? Who are some men who love their wives sacrificially and unconditionally?
  • Singles: How does all of this affect what you think about marriage? How does a single woman avoid marrying a man she cannot submit to? How does a single man find a woman he can love for his entire life? What should you be looking for in a potential mate?

Resources

Unity in Diversity

Small Group Discussion Guide

Prepare for this discussion by reading Ephesians in one sitting. If you have time, read it over again. Make note of the general themes of the letter.

Understanding and teaching Ephesians 5-6 requires great attention to detail. The task carries massive implications for how we live our everyday life.

To say that this section of Scripture generates controversy today would be an understatement. We must, therefore, begin this week where we left off at the end of our study of Revelation: The Bible is the Word of God because it is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Therefore, the Bible carries an authoritative weight to which we must submit every area of our lives.

That being said, none of us are perfectly obedient to Scripture.

We are in a process of sanctification in which submission to Christ is done more and more joyfully and willingly as we grow. Furthermore, we often have disagreements about the best way to interpret the revealed will of God.

Our disagreements do not in any way diminish the authority of Scripture. What they do is simply demonstrate that none of us have a perfect vision for the will of God.

Sanctification is a process into which the church is called to engage together. The controversy around the Bible’s teaching on family life should cause us to dig deeper into studying the Bible so we can more clearly see what God has in mind for living within a family unit.

These background teachings from the OT control how we interpret the household codes of Ephesians:

  • In the Bible, male and female are two distinctly different genders that have distinctly different God designed characteristics.
  • God literally made gender (male and female) for the purpose of marriage; therefore, gender has its highest purpose in marriage.
  • God made Eve out of Adam for Adam to understand that Eve was one with him (one flesh). Therefore, Adam was not to view his headship of her in the manner of his headship over the rest of creation, but rather he was to view his headship of her within the one flesh covenant bond he has with her.  Just as God was in covenant with Adam and thus Adam reigned over creation with Him, Adam was also in covenant with Eve and therefore he was to live in submission to God and rule over creation as one with her.

Our current set of hot topic cultural issues reveals just how relevant these 3500-year-old teachings are for us today.

As I read Matthew 19:4-6, I am reminded of a personal peeve that comes about whenever I debate these hot topics with people who claim to know the Bible well. It is often argued that Jesus never addressed gender identity, homosexuality, or “gay marriage.”1

My response goes something like this:

“Of course Jesus did not address the current events of today the way that we wish he would have. He was a Jewish man living in Palestine in the first century.

“Gender identity, homosexuality, and gay marriage were terms that could not even have been conceived by the Jewish cultures of Palestine in the first century. While same-gendered sexual activity may have occurred in defiance of the Mosaic Law, being gay as a way of living the totality of one’s life simply did not exist in first century Palestine.

“Homosexuality as a term was not invented until 1892. The hot topic around marriage in Jesus’ day was divorce, and he did not shy away from addressing it forcefully, emphatically, and based on the conviction that the Word of God could not be broken by changing cultural attitudes.

“Jesus does address our current hot topics by affirming as true what God has told us from the beginning; God created male and female. God created sex and marriage exclusively for the lifelong covenantal union of a male and a female.”

I am extremely thankful that as a theological position, Venture Church does not leave an open-ended question where Jesus has put a period. Our only question is how to engage folks in Gospel conversations who may struggle with what Jesus has said so that we can point them to the person of Jesus and not to our own cultural opinions.

“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Ephesians 5:18

submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Ephesians 5:21

Ephesians 1-4 goes into great detail about the reasons that we are called to have unity in Christ. Then Ephesians 5 gives us two very practical pieces about how to live in unity in the church. It is no mistake that before we can even begin to talk about living as a Christian family we have to learn to do two things in the church:

  1. Be filled with the Spirit
  2. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ

The point of the Old Testament teaching on marriage that is getting ready to be applied to the church is that the strength of unity comes from the diversity of the individual pieces. The family is a picture of the church and the church is the picture of a solid family.

How does this play out?

A church is supposed to be made up of a bunch of people who are totally and completely NOT like one another. The beauty of the Gospel is that we are unified by the blood of Jesus with people with whom the world would tell us that we are enemies.

Think about the different types of diversity that are supposed to exist in the church:

  • Racial
  • Ethnic
  • Gender
  • Emotional makeup
  • Economic
  • Education-level
  • Family Background
  • Place of Origin
  • Language of Birth
  • Political views
  • Musical tastes
  • Styles of dress
  • Personalities
  • Struggles with Sin
  • Age

Despite all of these differences, the church is completely and totally unified in salvation, baptism, communion, fellowship, love, worship, seeking justice, and fulfilling the Great Commission.

Our differences do not go away. In fact, if our differences went away, the church would be weaker and become something less than what God intended for it to be.

  • How is diversity present in this life group?
  • How is this diversity a strength?
  • Would you be able to find as much help for your marriage and your relationship with Christ if everyone else were exactly like you?

Now, we need to apply the way we think about diversity in the church to the way we think about diversity in marriage. I don’t know a man alive who hasn’t said “I do not understand women at all.” Most days, I think Jennifer has a hard time understanding me as well.

When God created male and female, he created two genders who would be completely and totally unlike one another. That’s not a bad thing. It’s the genius of God’s creative design.

This is not to say that some men won’t be like most women in some ways and some women won’t be like most men in some ways. Liking to cook and garden does not make me less of a man. Liking sports does not make a woman less of a woman. However, at the end of the day, you will be married to someone who seems like they arrived from a different planet.

I am convinced that God wired me to fall in love with Jennifer because her personality is soooooooooo different from mine. God knew that I needed somebody who had a wisdom of perspective that was completely foreign to my own. Our differences often lead to conflicts and communication becomes something that requires a lot of effort. But the end result of what we gain from being married to someone who is other makes us much stronger together than we could have been separately.

In talking to a lot of young people over the years, I believe that the general self-centeredness of our culture has ultimately led to the decline in the family.

There are many non-Christian cultures that have strong family structures. The common element of those cultures is that they teach their children to think of themselves as a we instead of a me. Marriage simply will not thrive when its chief concern is two people taking an attitude about what they can selfishly gain from the marriage (even though marriage does ultimately have great benefits for the self.)

The decline in marriage and the rise in the notion of homosexual unions is that people are told from an early age that the greatest good in life is to seek relationships only with people who understand them, who make them feel good about themselves, and for whom the relationship does not feel like it requires work.

In a non-sexual way, the idea of living in a frat house with lots of other young men who enjoy all of the same interests sounds like an awesome idea to an eighteen-year-old kid. The eighteen-year-old eventually realizes, however, that when everybody in a house behaves like a frat-bro it will usually descend into filth and disorder. The idea of a woman “civilizing” the home becomes attractive once a young man learns what it means to not have a mom present.

When God created marriage, he then called the world “very good.” Men and women need one another in ways that are foundational to our very being.

  • How are you and your spouse not like one another?
  • How does that lead to conflict?
  • How is that a good thing?
  • How does a single person still benefit from friendship with people of the opposite sex?
  • Does our culture do a good job of preparing men and women to respect one another? Why or Why not?
  • What role do Ephesians 5:18 and 5:21 play in your own friendships and marriage?
  • How can you begin to function interdependently with your spouse instead of as two individuals who occasionally support one another?

Related Items

The Centrality of God’s Word

Discussion Guide for Revelation 22:6-21

A Christian should ask himself every day, “How central is the Word of God to my life?”

The answer to that question for most of us on most days would probably be “not central enough.”

As I prepared this discussion guide, I have been given a timely challenge to make the Word of God more central to the time we spend in small groups within the church.

Review the points of the sermon for this text:

  • God’s Word is justifiably authoritative
  • Obeying God’s Word brings blessing
  • God’s Word should cause us to worship Him
  • God’s Word is the only way to be saved
  • We must handle and proclaim God’s Word correctly

Which of these points most challenged you in your own relationship with God’s Word?

“These words are trustworthy and true…” v. 6.

This phrase brings out an aspect of the truth of God’s Word that is not popular in modern American culture. Revelation, as well as the entire Bible (the word of the Spirit to the prophets and apostles) is propositional truth. We don’t get to sit around and decide which parts of God’s Word we would like to follow and which ones we don’t. We don’t get to decide which parts are true and which ones are false. God’s Word is a proposition. You either believe the proposition or you don’t.

This does not mean that we don’t struggle and wrestle with God’s Word. That is part of our sanctification. It simply means that have a daily choice to make whether we will submit to God’s Word or try to make God submit to us. BTW, the Bible gives ample testimony to what happens when we try to make God submit to us. You may have your own personal story to share about the time you tried to make God submit to you. It is always a very painful experience.

Verse 7 gives us a blessing to consider in this choice:

“Blessed is the one who keeps the words of prophecy of this book.”

If you had not become acquainted with the nature of prophecy over the course of our study or Revelation, the whole notion of keeping prophecy might seem strange. Isn’t prophecy simply meant to inform us? How do we keep information? Are we simply to memorize it?

Memorization is certainly included in keeping the words of prophecy, but I hope you have been encouraged and strengthened in your resolution to live for Christ as you have memorized and meditated on the Words of the Book of Revelation.

  • What do you think it means to keep the Words of prophecy?
  • What changes in your life are required to truly keep the Words?
  • How has this book enhanced your own worship of God (v. 8-9)?

“Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” (v. 10)

The language of verses 10 and 11 seems odd at first. What do you mean “let the evildoer still do evil?”

One of the most basic functions of prophecy is to provide a mirror with which men and women can examine themselves for who they truly are. Revelation has just given us many, many images to compare the world under the dominion of Satan with the church under the dominion of Christ. We should be able to read the book, hold it up as an image of our lives, and know whether or not be belong to the camp of the evil and filthy or to the camp of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.

This is why we are told not to seal up these words. They must be proclaimed so that men can know whether or not they stand to inherit eternal life.

  • What will it look like for you to “unseal” the Word of God to those around you?
  • How do you proclaim God’s Word without being a preacher?

By God’s grace we will stand firm in the correct handling of the Word of God. We live in a day in age where many Christians either flippantly disregard the need for theological precision and doctrinal correctness or they go out of their way to engage in meaningless disputes over things that are not central elements of Christian faith. The warning throughout the book of Revelation is that the church should avoid both pitfalls and vigorously contend for the truth that brings eternal life.

  • What is the warning and promise for doctrinal integrity in Revelation 22:18-21?
  • Do we do a good job as individuals and as a church to advocate for the truths that matter and avoid meaningless disputes that don’t?
  • How do you know which truth needs to be defended at a given moment?
  • How do you decide which disputes to avoid?

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The New City

Discussion Guide for Revelation 21

One of my favorite parts of ministry at Venture Church is to meet people visiting the church for the first time. It is very satisfying to hear the reasons why they enjoyed visiting and want to come again soon.

Those reasons usually revolve around four things that we as a church try very hard to do well:

  1. Preach the entire truth of the Bible in a way that people can understand it
  2. Sing praises to God in a worthy manner
  3. Bury people with kindness when they come in the door so that they know that we love them and are happy they are here
  4. Treat kids with love while we teach them the Bible.

When a person comes to a church that is good at fulfilling its calling, they often describe the experience as a little piece of heaven on earth.

  • What aspects of church give life to your soul?
  • What parts of church stress you out?
  • In your experience, how does the church resemble heaven? 

As we come toward the end of the book of Revelation, Satan and all of his work have been judged and eternally destroyed. Those who live deceived by Satan have been cast into the lake of fire with him. What remains of the earth is made new, without any of the taint of sin. Just like Revelation 19, the language of a marriage covenant permeates this entire chapter.

We have to get our theology of marriage right in order to properly understand heaven. Revelation 22:1-5 illustrates a recreation of the Garden of Eden. The Garden was a place of life where man and woman dwelled in a perfect marriage and a perfect relationship with God.

Bible scholars point out the book of marital love, Song of Solomon, also likens marriage to a delightful garden. The ancient interpretation of Song of Solomon as an allegory of the love of God for the church may bear some truth.

In Revelation, the new Jerusalem is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The man and woman were innocently naked before each other and God in the Garden. In the new creation, all of the shame of sin and death will be cast away. All of life will be lived in the presence of light.

Adam and Eve were created to help God rule over the Garden. The church is a new creation to help God rule over the renewed earth.

Marriage is all about a man and woman dwelling together in unity. The New Jerusalem is about a place where God dwells (tabernacles) with his unified people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

We could literally write books and books that would parallel heaven and marriage.

  • Does your marriage prepare you for the New Jerusalem?
  • What can you do this week to help your marriage reflect the union of God and His church?
  • How does the union with God have even greater significance for a person called to live in singleness?

Much is often made of the presence of jewels and pearls and crystal and gold. I hate to throw cold water onto the typical southern gospel singing where they go on and on about the physical riches and beauty of heaven, but that is not the point of this passage.

A person who is interested in heaven because of the gold and jewels is not interested in the heaven of the Bible, and probably is not interested in the savior who is the way to heaven.

Heaven is the place where God decides to dwell in an eternally abiding covenantal relationship with His bride, the church. The point of heaven is that we get to spend our eternity in the presence of God! This reality is only a comfort to those of us who know and love Him.

The description of riches is to convey the point that God’s presence has infinitely more value than anything this world has to offer.

The cubic shape brings to mind the shape of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple, where the presence of God continually dwelt in the midst of the people of Israel. The dimensions of 12,000 stadia correspond with the dimension of the known Grecian world of John’s time.

The implication is that the presence of God will fill the entire earth and will not be withheld from any of those who are washed clean and given a place in the eternal city1.

  • What does the word covenant mean to you in regards to your relationship with God?
  • Do you believe the shallow nature of our relationships with other people in modern western culture makes our relationship with God more or less meaningful?
  • What does it mean to thirst for the spring of the water of life?

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The Millennium

Discussion Guide for Revelation 20

I will be the first person to admit that my knowledge to write this discussion guide with confidence falls way short.

There are doctrinally-solid, Bible-believing Christians who have many different theories about the Revelation 20 millennium. When I listen to different factions debate Revelation 20 using solid sources from other Scripture, I almost always walk away saying about all them “yep, that’s what I believe.”

The Christian views on the millennium fall into three general categories: Premillennialism, Amillennialism and Postmillenialism. 1

  • Premillennialism – The millennium follows the return of Christ. Jesus will rule the earth with his saints for 1,000 years (literal or figurative perfect length of time), during which time peace will reign, the natural world will no longer be cursed and evil will be suppressed (though not completely abolished). After a final rebellion, God will crush evil forever; judge the resurrected, non-believing dead; and establish heaven and hell.
  • Amillennialism – The millennium is not a specific period of time. Instead the millennium refers to the heavenly reign of Christ and his departed saints. The return of Christ will occur at the end of history. The church has always lived in “the last days.”
  • Postmillenialism – Christ will return following the millennium. The millennium is brought to fruition through the ever-increasing influence of the preaching and teaching of the Gospel by the church. Evil will diminish through conversions, the increasing role of the church, earthly prosperity, and Christian values solving social ills. Christ’s return and final judgement will end evil forever.

Even within our Church, Austin holds to the Premillennial view while I (Jonathan) tend be Amillennial.

I hope that you can see there is merit to all three views. For example, if you see that secularism, genocide, persecution and worldliness are making things worse on the earth with every passing year you would likely be sympathetic to Premillennialism. If you conclude that there are certain eschatological themes present in a study of every age of church history, but no future event is necessary to precede the return of Christ, you would tend to agree with the Amillennial viewpoint. If you observe that two thousand years of church history has gradually diminished the evils of slavery, hunger, disease, poverty, and the subjugation of women you might be more inclined toward Postmillennialism.

Biblically, a lot depends on whether Revelation 20 should be read as a chronological continuation of Revelation 19 or the beginning of a seventh cycle of judgments. This is one of those debates where a single minor presupposition can determine which “camp” you ultimately land into.

We must keep our eyes on that fact that the purpose of Revelation 20 Is to unite and encourage the church, not to sow discord and division.

There is no way I can possibly address every potential question you may have about Revelation 20 in one discussion guide. Please feel free to reach out to us on Facebook or through our contact page and we’ll be glad to help you find answers.

Revelation 20 is the only place in the NT where the phrase “thousand years” is used to refer to the kingdom of Christ. This does not mean that the millennium isn’t a primary concern of Scripture. On the contrary, the kingdom of God is THE primary concern of the New Testament. If you don’t believe me just do a google search of the word “kingdom” in the New Testament.

In Revelation we view another angle of looking at the kingdom of Christ and the defeat of the reign of Satan.

The point of the Bible’s emphasis on the Kingdom of God is that Jesus is King! Living in a democracy we often have to put on our thinking caps to understand what is involved in being king. We don’t have anything in our lives that presently compares to this absolute righteous monarchy.

The sovereignty of King Jesus is demonstrated in two broad areas:

  1. Jesus’ power to destroy to destroy Satan and his work and
  2. Jesus’ absolute prerogative to righteously judge all men who have lived in the past, present, and future.

In destroying Satan’s work, the greatest thing defeated is death. In destroying that Jesus will resurrect the dead — both those who died believing in Christ and those who died as unbelievers.

The martyrs and the church are invited into ruling with Christ. Those who stand before Christ without names written in the book of life will be cast into eternal fire.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you fear about Christ establishing his kingdom?
  • What aspect of the kingdom do you long to see?
  • How does the fact of the resurrection of the dead affect your life today?
  • How would you rate your confidence in Jesus’ ultimate victory of Satan’s work?
  • Should the torment of the lake of fire cause us to live differently as witnesses in this present age?
  • Who in your life needs to come to terms with the reality of the Great White Throne?
  • How can you be a witness to that person?

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The Marriage

Discussion Guide for Revelation 19

I hope you have seen throughout the study of Revelation the supernatural ability of John to tell a riveting story. We should not be surprised. After all, Revelation is written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The truth apparent in Revelation is the same truth apparent throughout the other 65 books of the Bible: God rescues His people from His just condemnation.

God communicates the truth of the Gospel by giving us a compelling story in which we are active participants. There is no greater experience in life than worshipping God through his Word. This is a big part of what it means to participate in worship.

The appearance of the King resembles the entrance of the hero in many of our favorite movies. My personal favorite is the scene in Braveheart where William Wallace rides onto the battlefield, gives the “they may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom” speech, and then takes charge of the army.

These entrances are crucial to telling a great story because of the longing in every human heart to be swept up in a story of rescue.

  • What is your favorite movie scene of the hero’s entrance?
  • Why do you think that scene is so compelling in consideration of the way Jesus appears here?

Revelation 19 can be summed up in one simple Hebrew expression, “Hallelujah.”

This is the only use of Hallelujah in the New Testament — and it is used four times. The expression means, “Praise Yahweh.”

When God’s people receive our ultimate redemption, our response is to simply praise God for his rescue.

Question one of the Westminster Catechism sums it up like this: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” This is precisely what is taking place in Revelation 19.

The imagery in Revelation 19:6-10 recounts one of the Bible’s powerful recurring themes. It is the picture of marriage as the union of God and his people.

The church should make a big deal out of marriage (as Venture will in our next sermon series) because God makes a big deal of it.

Our marriages reflect what we believe about salvation. In the marriage feast (Rev. 19:6-10) we have rejoicing and exultation. It is the greatest celebration in the history of the universe. We (the church) are the bride in a wedding secured, bought, and paid for by the groom (Christ). Even our wedding garments (righteousness) have been given to us as a free gift.

In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus spoke of his coming as the bridegroom. Our only job in life is to be prepared in patient expectation of the day of our wedding!

  • Why do you think righteous deeds are portrayed as fine white linen wedding garments?
  • Why are we commanded to clothe ourselves in light of the coming wedding?
  • How do we clothe ourselves?

The remainder of Revelation 19 is a battle scene. This battle, however, does not typify what we usually see in the movies. It is all one-sided!

The important piece of this passage is the depth to which it goes to give us the true identity of Christ.

It’s interesting to note that the bowl judgements are what compelled the kings of the earth the to gather together to oppose Christ. What seemed like the victory of Satan turns out to be the victory of God’s judgement because he was simply gathering the kings together for their flesh to be feasted upon by the birds.

Discussion Questions

  • What can we learn about Jesus from this passage?
  • Does this identity reflect the way Jesus is treated in the church?
  • Does this identity reflect what people typically think about Jesus in the world?
  • Do you think people will be surprised at the slaughter?
  • Why do you think the sharp sword comes from Jesus’ mouth?
  • Do you comprehend how powerful is the Word of God?
  • How do we celebrate our rescue without celebrating the awful fate of a world that is being judged?

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