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Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of March 3rd, 2019

Why Transfiguration?


John Ray

key text / Matthew 16:24-17:8 (NET)


For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.

See the livestream on facebook here





The Transfiguration is for everyone’s benefit; the disciples, Jesus’s, ours and all creation.


As we enter into the season of Lent, stop. Breathe. Listen. Take time to just listen. Let go of what you think you know. Listen.


Observing Lent is a discipline. It’s a discipline that has been practiced by Jesus followers since the times of the early Church. Let that sink in for a minute. Most of the people who have ever claimed to follow Christ have recognized and observed Lent in some way shape or form. There is something here friends, something valuable. This Lent season, we are all invited to practice Lent. Whether or not this is your first time or it’s a well-worn practice, purpose right now to intentionally join the Church as well as develop your personal practices. There are limitless resources for helping you in your practice that you get to choose from as well as things we are doing as a Church that are already planned out. We need both. Choose both. Grace and peace.  


Last week we examined two of Jesus’ most famous miracles: feeding 5,000 people from a boy’s single lunchbox, and then walking on water to meet his disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. And in that text, we learned that the kingdom of God is in part about helping the needy experience the reality of the goodness of God.


We skip over a few sections of scripture, which contains more healing, miracles, and a run-in between Jesus and the religious power brokers of the day who question why he and his followers don’t follow their rules.


And then right before we pick up in this week’s text, Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. And Peter, a member of his inner circle, says that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God, which Jesus affirms. Jesus then begins to show them that he must go to Jerusalem and be killed, which Peter and the others balk at. And we pick up in the middle of this conversation.



The exact “Mount of Transfiguration” is unknown, but tradition has generally claimed it to be Mount Tabor in the Galilee region of Israel. Mount Hermon is another location scholars believe it could be. Watch this two minute video for a little more background on each of the locations.



  • The transfiguration gives us a glimpse into who Jesus really is.

  • The transfiguration lets us see things from a radically different perspective.

  • The transfiguration empowers us to love, follow and obey Jesus.

  • What does the transfiguration tell us about who Jesus is?

  • When you hear or read the words “deny yourself and take up your cross”, what are the first thoughts that come to mind? Does this feel like freedom? Bondage? Something else? What adjustment to your mindset would have to be made for those words to feel like freedom if they don’t already?

  • What do the details in this passage regarding Peter, James, and John tell us about our own humanity and human nature?

  • What are the “transfiguration” moments you’ve had, almost mystical moments of seeing things more clearly in light of Jesus? What if you haven’t?


  • Background Bible-These study aids might be useful for those who are new to studying scripture:   

  1. What do Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 3:17, Matthew 12:18, and Matthew 17:5 have in common?  Make a three-column chart for notes.  What does each verse say about the identity of Christ, God’s relationship to Jesus, and any actions for Jesus or us?  Record evidence from each verse in the three columns.  

  2. In Matthew 17:4, Peter hastily offers to build three dwellings so this mountain-top worship can be sheltered.  Read more here about what Peter didn’t understand yet about how God planned for us to worship Him through Jesus.  




Jesus 12 closest followers, the disciples, don’t really grasp the idea of Jesus having to go to Jerusalem to die. And with good reason. There’s not a precedent for a messiah, a son of God, who has to die in order to fulfill the purpose for which He is on earth. And so it is in this time where Jesus begins his fourth major block of teaching. And in our text next week, Jesus gives his followers two models for extending grace and not abuse in relationships. Read about it in Matthew 18:15-35.

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of March 10th, 2019

How Many Times?


John Ray

key text / Matthew 18:15-35 (NET)


For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.




Forgiveness is an absolutely necessary component of love. Without forgiveness there cannot be love.


As we enter the season of Lent and focus on practicing forgiveness, take time to reflect on who it is that you need to forgive. Think you’re good? Then take a minute and consider who would it make you happy to see fail? Who do you smile when they get “put in their place”. It might be a person or a group of people. It might be people who represent a system or way of thinking, living. Who do you fear for the thought of what you might say to them? For whom do you lack concern or empathy? This reflection might take a while. Make notes. Don’t judge yourself for the way you feel. Be honest. Make a list.


Once you have done the above exercise, pray and ask for grace to forgive. Don’t move too fast. Pray, wait. Ask the Holy Spirit for insight, courage and understanding. Don’t suppress your emotions or reactions. Don’t expect it to happen all at once. Wait. Continue to confess to God your need to forgive the people(s) on your list. Ask for the grace to even want to forgive.


After the Transfiguration, Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy, again foretells of his death and resurrection, and pays his temple tax, which Jews paid for the upkeep of the temple. Then Matthew brings us to Jesus’ fourth block of teaching (of five total) in chapter 18. He speaks of humility and being like a child, obedience, and gives a parable about what a shepherd would do if he lost a sheep. Which leads into our text this week, on relationships, conflict, and forgiveness.



Last week we studied the Transfiguration. Historians traditionally ascribe the location of that event to Mt. Tabor. Matthew then tells us that they came down off the mountain and were in Galilee. Then they went to Capernaum by the time we reach our text this week. Do some research to understand how Mt. Tabor, Galilee, and Capernaum relate to each other geographically.



Forgiveness is rooted in the fact we have already been forgiven.

Forgiveness is rooted in how much we have been forgiven.

Forgiveness is rooted in how often we have been forgiven.

  • In what ways have you found forgiving others difficult? In what ways have you found accepting forgiveness from others difficult? How does reflecting on the previous two questions change your response to forgiveness in the future?

  • Have you ever shamed yourself for not being “a more forgiving person”? If so, how did this affect your ability to forgive?

  • In our text this week, Jesus teaches us about having hard and potentially confrontational conversations with our family members in the church, and then speaks on a parable of forgiveness. How do you think these two teachings relate to each other?

  • How does the parable of the king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants offend your sense of justice? Are there ways that you have held someone else’s debt against them when your debt has been taken care of? If so, share with your group if comfortable.

  • As followers of Jesus, our road to forgiving is paved by the fact that we have been forgiven first, often, and countless times. Is your ability to forgive marked by those realities, or is it a struggle for you to accept and receive forgiveness? If yes to the latter, what would it take to begin to re-frame the narrative you tell yourself about the state of your forgiveness and the ability to receive it?


Before this portion of the scripture, Jesus had just paid his temple tax.  Look back in Exodus 30:  11-16 for more information on this practice.  What does it say the offering is for?



Look up the definition of atonement.  ____________________________________

When Jesus starts teaching about the economy of the kingdom of God in Matthew 18:23, how does this background of the temple tax and atonement make you consider what Jesus is preparing his followers for?   



  • “A state of unforgiveness is like carrying a heavy burden — a burden that victims bring with them when they navigate the physical world,” the authors of a recent medical study write. “Forgiveness can lighten this burden.”

  • Could grief be a doorway to forgiveness?  Read more here on thoughts about grieving, anger and healing forgiveness by Andrew J. Bauman.  

  • In this article, the author points out the benefits and deep meaning found in the observation of the Lenten season.  

  • Is it possible that the observation of Lent, as well as the rest of the liturgical calendar, can benefit your own discipleship as a Christ follower?  Michael A. Milton shares some interesting reflections in this blogpost.  

    • After reading the blogpost, ask yourself:  

      • What has this year’s study of the book of Matthew and the preceding Old Testament prophecies and background we studied in the fall helped to “order my life” to better follow Christ?  

      • In what ways are you feeling impressed to “number your days?”

  • Check out our weekly Spotify playlist here, with commentary from our own Amy Rowe



Next week, we look at another parable, still in Jesus’ fourth block of teaching for the book of Matthew. He continues to talk about the way that his kingdom is different than how organizations and administrations on Earth operate. And he uses a story about how a boss pays people the same wage whether they worked an entire day for him or just an hour. Check it out in Matthew 20:1-16.

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of March 17th, 2019

The Offensiveness of Grace & Forgiveness


John Ray

key text / Matthew 20:1-16 (NET)




For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.




This Kingdom has a King and that King is unlike any King this world has ever seen.


“Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, and what is soiled is made clean again. The dream explains why we need to be forgiven, and why we must forgive. In the presence of God, nothing stands between him and us – we are forgiven. But we cannot feel his presence if anything is allowed to stand between ourselves and others.” - Dag Hammarskjöld


One of my seminary classmates was a tough-looking Hawaiian named Ryan Hee. Ryan became a good friend and I learned so much viewing what following Jesus looks like through the lens of native Hawaiian culture and language. One thing he introduced me to was the practice of Ho’oponopono, or to make “double right.”  As we focus on our practice of forgiveness this week, consider how this practice might influence the way you ask for and receive forgiveness here on the mainland. If a situation comes up where you need to ask for or receive forgiveness, use this practice and see how it affects what you experience.

The practice of Ho’oponopono

Step 1: Repent – Say, “I’m sorry,” being specific about that for which you are sorry.

Step 2: Ask Forgiveness – Say,  “Please forgive me.”  Again, be specific in what you are asking forgiveness for.

In between steps 2 and 3, let the other person respond. Listen. Don’t interrupt or try and explain. Accept what the person has to say.

Step 3: Express Gratitude – Say, “Thank you.”

Step 4: Demonstrate Love – Say,  “I love you.”

Then again, be quiet. Let the situation settle.  


This week, we stay in the same teaching section of Matthew, Jesus’ fourth of five teaching blocks. Last week, we looked at Jesus’ teaching on confrontation and forgiveness. Jesus then goes on to speak about divorce, Jesus’ love of kids, and how easily wealth can be replacement for God. That leads us to our passage this week, a parable about workers in a vineyard.


At this time and place in history, grapes were a common and vital crop. Any Israelite would be well familiar with vineyards. Furthermore, Israel is referred to as the vine or vineyard of God multiple times in the Old Testament, and later on in Matthew the vineyard metaphor is used to represent activity in the Kingdom of God. So this text is relevant culturally and scripturally.



As Jesus has been teaching, discipling and healing in the area surrounding Galilee, things are literally “going south” as he turns his face towards Jerusalem.  



God gives grace abundantly, universally and endlessly

The grace we receive isn’t  in any way, shape or form, earned.

Because of this, there is zero room for boasting, throwing shade, posturing, ranking, or crying foul.

  • When was a time in your life when you felt you worked hard for something to gain a reward or compensation, but observed someone else receiving the same reward who didn’t put in the effort you did? How was your response or attitude similar or different to those in this week’s parable who worked the entire day?

  • What about the other way around--have you ever received the same reward as someone else who worked harder than you to receive that reward? How did you feel about receiving that reward for a much more “efficient” output of labor?

  • Is the view of God as landowner in this story comforting? Frustrating? Both? Other? What thoughts come to mind as you ponder God giving reward to some who have followed him their whole lives, while others joined the family relatively late?

  • Last week we studied a passage specifically on forgiveness, and Jesus said there is no limit to the number of times we are to forgive those who have offended us. In so doing, we release revenge and leave God to deal with justice. In what way or ways is this week’s passage similar?

  • Even within our faith communities, we often tend to jockey for favor, power, and influence, usually based on some level of merit we ascribe to ourselves. How does this week’s passage speak to that?


  • Why does Matthew use the terminology kingdom of heaven, while other gospels use the terminology kingdom of God?  See this link for more information.  

  • Go back and list each reference in Matthew in which Jesus teaches about the kingdom of heaven and summarize what you learned through each parable or teaching about the nature of God, and any applications for your journey.   



  • The grace of God is not fair by human standards.  How does this affect us as disciples?  Listen to the thoughts of several theological scholars from Luther Seminary on the scripture of the week in this podcast.  Insight from the Narrative Lectionary Commentary

  • “Just as Matthew highlights that God’s kingdom will not result in a stratified system of haves and have nots, so we can live in the church in a way that makes clear the surprising equality among the people of God based on God’s amazing generosity,” writes Jeannine K. Brown in this commentary.

  • Jesus was addressing a core developmental milestone with humans in describing the difference between the kingdom of heaven and our humanly empires.  Parents of young children might find this article interesting as they help guide their children from “that’s not fair!” thinking to understanding the grace with which God loves them and loves others.  

  • Think you’d use a specific guide for forgiving?   Some in our fellowship have found this an extremely helpful outline for helping with forgiveness.

  • If you haven’t yet, check out Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts daily Lent devotional (10-15 minutes daily).

  • If you appreciate artistic inspiration or opportunities for artistic creativity as your response to Lenten studies, see this resource for links to participate in this manner.  Take the challenge to share photos that fit with the theme of the day through #LentChallenge.  

  • See the weekly Spotify playlist with commentary by Amy Buff



Next week, we will look at another great parable from Jesus about the Kingdom of God. But this one he tells his listeners in the last week of his life. And he’s in Jerusalem, arguably the most important city in the world. It’s a parable about a wedding celebration, and it shows us how we often fight to win a never-ending game that’s not based in reality. Read about it in Matthew 22:1-14

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of March 24th, 2019

Be Our Guest


Grace Holt

key text / Matthew 22:1-14 (NET)


For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.




I originally wanted to make this story about us, our invitations, at my first few readings of it. Our responsibility to go out into the streets and gather the lost.  But that’s not really the main point. It’s about the patient beckoning of the King for us to come to him.  It’s his desire to connect with us.  It’s him repeatedly asking us to see the benefits of his plan, and to listen when we are called.


Think about a time when you felt proud, special, or important just to know or be associated with someone significant. Not necessarily someone famous, but someone significant in a certain time and place. Think about what it was about this person and your relationship that made you feel this way. And spend some time this week meditating on the idea that this is a reality each of us can experience with Jesus at any and all times.


This week, think about who in your life would benefit from an invitation that you could extend. And then commit to extending the invitation some time in the next few weeks. It could be to a meal, a gathering, or a conversation.


Last week we examined a parable from Matthew chapter 20, a part of Jesus’ fourth major teaching block. After this section of his teaching is wrapped up, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, just like the Old Testament said a savior would do. And Jerusalem is an important city for a lot of reasons. But maybe the most important reason is that this is where the manifestation of the presence of God dwells, in the temple first built by Solomon and re-built by Nehemiah after it was destroyed during Israel’s exile from their homeland. Thus it is the epicenter of Jewish life and culture.


Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of the last week of his life, commonly referred to as “Holy Week.”  He enters to chants and praises, but as we will soon see, his kingdom begins to collide with the social order kingdom of his day, here in the epicenter of his culture.


It’s important to note that in Matthew’s 28 chapters, the first two are about Jesus’ birth and infancy. Chapter three picks up when Jesus is around age 30, and from chapter three to chapter twenty spans about 3 years. And chapters 21 through 28 will take place over the final week of Jesus’ life and shortly thereafter, maybe 10 days at the most.



After Jesus entered Jerusalem in Matthew 21 for what we know (but those around Jesus didn’t) will be the final week of his life, he enters the “Temple Courts” and begins to speak. And that is the location where Jesus delivers the parable we read this week.

There are actually multiple “courts”, maybe what we would refer to as a common area for people to gather. Jesus most likely delivered his teaching in the “Court of the Gentiles”. See here for a map of the Temple in Jesus’ time. Click on the Court of the Gentiles link on the photo to read about this part of the temple.



  • Have you ever been invited to something you thought you should have been more excited about? What was the event? What were the reasons you weren’t more energized to attend?

  • Have you ever gotten an invite to something you feel you didn’t deserve or didn’t belong? Did you attend? Why or why not? What was the experience like?

  • In our text this week, Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven, saying it is like the gift of being invited to a royal wedding. And like those in the parable, we often don’t view it as such. What would it take to sharpen your imagination in order to view life in Christ as the gift that it is?

  • The text also states that both “bad and good” were invited to this royal wedding (the kingdom of heaven). What are your thoughts on this? Do you view this as fair or unfair? Why?


  1. Go back to the Old Testament and read 2 Chronicles 30.  Compare and contrast the components of this narrative and that in Matthew 22.

  2. Look up a couple of other verses about callings:  Acts 13:2-3;  Ephesians 2:10-13; James 4:7-8. 



  • “The doors of the kingdom community are thrown wide open, and the invitation extends literally to all. But once you come in, there are standards. You can’t go on acting like you are not at an extraordinary party,” writes Lance Pape in this commentary on the text from Working Preacher. You can also listen to the corresponding podcast here.

  • “Feasting prompts us to exchange shouts of ‘Alleluia, He is risen!’ with each other and reminds us that his kingdom draws near,” writes Kendall Vanderslice in this issue of Fathom magazine.  

  • “For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ,” is part of a quote mentioned by Melissa Blair in her blogpost Surprised by Church.  

  • “The imputed righteousness of Christ, and the sanctification of the Spirit, are both alike necessary. No man has the wedding-garment by nature, or can form it for himself. The day is coming, when hypocrites will be called to account for all their presumptuous intruding into gospel ordinances, and usurpation of gospel privileges.” - from this commentary from Matthew Henry

  • Listen to another strong sermon on this parable from Ricky Jones of Tulsa, OK (32 min)

  • See here for the weekly Spotify playlist, with corresponding commentary here from our own Amy Buff.


  • Bonus Tracks:  

If you’re still struggling with this passage, maybe a cartoonist’s interpretations will help a bit.  
AB: link to a good interview with Brian Zahnd, Derek Flood, Andrew Klager, and Brad Jersak and on this topic. Summary in comment



Next week, we continue on in Jesus final of five major teaching blocks in the book of Matthew. And he uses yet another parable to talk about himself and the kingdom. This time, he uses a metaphor of wise people who prepare and plan ahead, who are ready for the kingdom when it arrives. Read about it in Matthew 25:1-13.






Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of March 31st, 2019

The Waiting is the Hardest Part


John Ray

key text / Matthew 25:1-13 (NET)


For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.




What does it mean to “stay alert” and be prepared while we wait?


My mom and dad were both kids during the Great Depression and suffered hardship and deprivation in ways I can never know. But later in life, they handled things very differently. My mom was the classic saver — use it until it is falling apart, buy in bulk on sale — while my dad was free-spending and never saved. I’ve found that, generally, people tend to lean towards one of these extremes even if they have never known a Depression. How is it with you? Do you respond to the uncertainty of life by saving, trying to control and protect by hyper-management? Or do you respond to uncertainty by rolling the dice, trying to grab all you can when you can? What does it tell you about yourself? About how you view God? 


Have you ever forgiven God? On the surface, it sounds so wrong. What could we possibly need to forgive God for? It seems sacrilegious. But while ultimately we know that God is good, having never done anything wrong by us, that isn’t always our experience of life. We often feel like God has forgotten, forsaken or just downright rejected us. We feel if only God had been “on time”, tragedy could have been avoided. And for that we need to forgive God. At least we need to go through the process of naming our hurts, our offenses, our feelings. Being real about them. Not trying to cover them over, or make excuses. Trust me, God can take it. In fact, I think God invites it because until we get all that out of the way, we can never know God and love God as God deserves. I think we will find God truly doesn’t ever need to be forgiven, but something in the process brings us clarity, and peace. So this week, practice forgiving God (and yourself) and let God reveal how truly good and how truly lovely God is.


In Matthew 21, Jesus rides into Jerusalem — the epicenter of Jewish life, culture and many prophecies. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of the last week of His life, commonly referred to as “Holy Week.”  He enters to chants and praises, but soon He knocks heads with the religious and political leaders as well as picking a major fight with the Devil.


As Ryan observed last week, “It’s important to note that in Matthew’s 28 chapters, the first two are about Jesus’ birth and infancy. Chapter 3 picks up when Jesus is around age 30; chapters 3-20 span about three years. And chapters 21-28 cover the final week of Jesus’ life and shortly thereafter, maybe 10 days at the most.”



After Jesus enters Jerusalem in Matthew 21, His speaking, gathering with His disciples, arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial all take place in a relatively small area. I was talking recently with a friend who’d just made a trip to Israel, and she noted that while visiting the Garden of Gethsemane — the place where Jesus prayed before His arrest — it occurred to her that it would have been super easy for Jesus to “jump a small wall and escape to the hills.”  We need to remember that through all that takes place in these passages, Jesus is choosing to put Himself directly in danger; it’s not that He can’t escape, but that He purposefully doesn’t.



  • Waiting isn’t going to top the list of anyone’s favorite things to do (if it happens to be a favorite for you, please seek help immediately). But it’s also unavoidable and ultimately one of the primary things God uses to form us into God’s image. So start these questions by considering your attitude towards waiting, and share it with the group. Talk about a time where the waiting turned out really well or really badly.

  • Since we’ve established that waiting is unavoidable, how do we wait attentively? How do we treat it as something that deserves our attention? Something to engage with, rather than to avoid or just endure?

  • I’ve found that when waiting, I usually want to just get it over with and move on, or go passive and check out until it’s over. But how do we wait responsively? How do we stay alert, ready to act, but also content to wait for the word?

  • It’s easy to read the text this week and justify an “I got mine, you go get your own” attitude. But is that really what’s being said here? How does this jibe with every other teaching of Jesus about giving, sharing, not holding on to what we have? If this isn’t a justification for selfishly hoarding or self-righteously shaming those who have less, how do we prepare abundantly? How do we go about living in such a way that makes room for everyone to have enough?

  • Group Bonus Question: How are you going to attentively, responsively and abundantly wait for Holy Week and Easter this year?





The disciples are full of questions about Jesus’ return, and the end of the age. And — surprise! — Jesus answers with a parable. Read about it in Matthew 25:31-46.

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