I remember it like yesterday About 15 years ago, a group of girlfriends and I decided to meet monthly in one another’s homes to read through a Biblical book, share insights and enjoy each others’ company. It turned out to be a pretty unbeatable formula as we realized most of us thrive when two basic things occur: creating community and continuous learning. Our Bible Study group accomplished both in spades.
That Saturday morning we stumbled upon a practice that turned out to be hugely valuable: we staged the Last Supper, one of the New Testament’s most well-known stories. By that I mean we literally tried to recreate the scene by thinking through the seating arrangement John’s Gospel described–although we weren’t really sure what we’d accomplish other than hoping for a clearer understanding of that momentous scene (see John 13:21-30).
We assumed it would have been John on one side and Peter on the other, knowing those were his two special disciples, indicated by events like the Transfiguration where they were the only ones included. But in the prior foot-washing story, we realized Peter is neither first nor last, but somewhere in the middle (see John 13:5,6). When Jesus returns to the table, announcing Judas’ coming betrayal (see John 13:17,18), we read: “One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him” (John 13: 23). This is John. The next verse reveals Peter’s distance, not nearness: “Simon Peter therefore motioned to him (John) to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking (John 13:24).
I’ll never forget the moment when we simultaneously realized the text implied it was Judas probably sitting in the other honored seat next to the Master. Could it be that Jesus was providing Judas one final opportunity to make a decision other than betrayal, an opportunity to be a better version of himself? An opportunity to rise instead of fall, to take a stand for what Judas knew was right, rather than surrender to the same evil influence that Jesus had successfully denounced at the launch of his ministry (see Matt. 4, Mark 1:12 and Luke 4).
In seeing that tiny detail of that history-changing night, I realized that love means never giving up on someone, continuing to engage, to stay with them to offer one more opening to make a choice that could change the course of a life. Talk about the opportunity for second chances! You might not initially think such a detail could be helpful, but it has provided a standard of forgiveness and patience that has guided me many times in the intervening years.
Recently I read this statement that confirmed what we glimpsed, written by a Jewish convert to Christianity who wrote extensively on Jewish practices in the New Testament, with emphasis added:
“Jewish documents are explicit in the arrangement of the table. It seems to have been quite an established rule that in a company of more than two, say of three, the chief personage or Head, in this case, Christ, reclined on the middle divan. We know from the Gospel narrative that John occupied the place on his Right hand, at the end of the divans, at the head of the table. But the chief place next to the Master would be to His left. We believe it to have been actually occupied by Judas. It is thought that Peter sat at the head of the table across from John. The rest of the disciples would occupy such places as were most convenient, or suited their fellowship with one another” (from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim, 1825-1889).
I share this treasured insight gained from a simple Bible Study group moment because I’ve so come to believe in the blessings such study can bestow on everyone who participates in something similar. It’s the adult version of ‘back to school’, with significant spiritual lessons to be gleaned. It’s a joy to watch at least eight new groups start this fall, using one of the eleven (soon to be twelve) BibleRoads workbooks, then hearing of the friendships and insights that grow from such associations.
I was thinking of this as preparation proceeds for an upcoming four day Bible Study at the beautiful Cedars’ Camps in the Ozark’s, on “Mark’s Gospel”. If people have never been to such an event, they might not know what to expect. Just consider any study project where you first prepare on your own by studying and answering provided questions, then think and pray through a text, researching it in various resources. Then benefit from coming together to share those insights with others who also want to dig deeper. Combine that with facilitation providing cultural, historical and religious background, asking key questions, urging people to think more deeply, and suddenly the text comes alive in new, fresh ways.
If this is something you’re interested in, please feel free to be in touch and/or watch a free, short video on some tips that could be helpful. While nothing substitutes for individual prayer and study, there are benefits from being part of group Bible Study:
- Getting to know fellow church members and friends at a deeper level
- Appreciating the accountability the group demands (don’t show up if you’re not prepared)
- Having a deadline (such as monthly or bi-weekly meetings) to ensure Bible study is a priority in busy lives
- Learning more about the Bible’s history, culture, politics, religion, and geography — all with the goal of making its stories more understandable, accessible and relevant to today
- Learning to speak the same language of the Bible that other Christian friends use vs. employing denominational language that others may find unfamiliar or puzzling
- And above all, finding new spiritual insights that are applicable to lives today
On such occasions, one can feel ideas bursting like popcorn in the room. Fresh insights now flood thought and suddenly a familiar passage is illumined in startling new ways. The atmosphere of loving, non-judgmental support surely adds to the clarity and insight participants gain. And most importantly, individuals leave with a sense of how to dig more deeply and thoughtfully into a Biblical text on their own.
We would love to hear your experiences in a group Bible Study, so please take a moment to share any that are meaningful. And happy digging!