We are now just over half way through our New Testament study for 2019. Up until this point we have been reviewing multiple accounts of the same events. That presented a unique challenge to our study, but it also gave us multiple perspectives to the events which made the study much more rich in my opinion. As we move into the Acts of the Apostles, it is important to remember that this is really just the second part of Luke’s gospel account. So instead of multiple accounts of the ensuing events, we have only Luke’s account.
One other important note about Luke’s account is it seems Luke was not just interviewing people for this second book. It seems that he was an actual eyewitness to many of these events, and personally associated with Paul.
I think we have a lot we can learn about discipleship and the difficulties related to establishing a church that can have a global impact. It was interesting as I read these first few chapters how many parallels I noticed regarding the establishment of the restored church in the 1800’s with the things the apostles in the ancient times and their attempt to establish a church. From conversations in upper rooms where it seems they were uncertain what to do, deliberations, councils, prayers about who should help lead the church, random and crazy miracles and revelations. Persecutions, arrests, and escapes as they preached and baptized thousands of people looking for the truth.
While we study I hope we can increase our compassion for those who try to lead the flock of Jesus Christ. It is not easy, they are not perfect, but even more importantly the Lord isn’t always clear in revelations as to what should be done. This is true for us all and we can learn much from having compassion for each other and helping even when things could be better.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 26 – Acts 1-5
– Christ’s churches will have order, revelation, persecutions, and struggles as they are lead by imperfect men and women.
– Apostles main function is to bear witness of the resurrected Savior.
– When we believe in Jesus we must repent (try to change) and be baptized (covenant with God), to receive the Holy Spirit and be forgiven.
Context and Timeline:
– We don’t know much about Jesus’s 40 day ministry that is mentioned at the beginning of Acts, but we do know that Jesus gave the apostles a charge to bring the gospel to the world. Jesus gives them an order in which they should spread the gospel and Acts is actually set up to show how the apostles worked on each group the Lord charged them with teaching. Jerusalem (chapters 1-7), Judea and Samaria (chapters 8-9), ends of the Earth (chapters 10-28).
– It seems likely that Luke would have had more to say in his two part missive to Theophilus if he were not limited by the length of papyrus scrolls. He had two rolls to write his account, The Book of Luke is the first and The Acts of the Apostles is the second.
– Circumcision plays a very important role in the beginnings of the Christian church. Many of the converts were Jews and still felt that circumcision was mandatory as part of their covenant with God. As the revelations are given to Peter that circumcision was not necessary it caused some very serious problems with the Christian church in Jerusalem. It was also a point of contention with the apostles themselves.
– We are shown that revelation is a key part of calling someone to the office of apostle. In fact, this pattern is also true later for other important callings.
– Casting lots was a way to confirm the will of God in making choices after a group united in prayer.
– Pentecost, or Shavuot, was a Jewish holiday that was pilgrimage like Passover that celebrated the giving of the Torah (Law on Mt. Sinai) to the children of Israel 7 weeks after they fled from Egypt.
– Another clue that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was an important source for Luke shows up in the first chapter of Acts when he counts her as one of the disciples uniting in prayer to choose the next apostle. I think it is significant that women are present in this important decision.
– A Sabbath’s journey is 2,000 cubits, or 3,000 feet, or slightly more than half of a mile.
– Proselyte as a noun actually means a convert.
– Solomon’s portico, or porch, was another name of a place located just to the eastern side of the Temple’s outer courtyard.
– The apostles are continuing to worship daily in the temple – Daily prayer calls (Jewish custom) we still part of the early Christian church among other Jewish customs. However, it is likely the apostles found special spiritual value in attending the temple daily as they sought direction for the new church.
– “Times of Refreshing” translates better as times of relief. “Restoration of all things” translates better as the building up and establishment of the Kingdom of God before Christ would come. I think it is important to note here that bridging the old and new covenants was important to the early Christian leaders as well as Joseph Smith in the restored church. Restoring all things to build the Kingdom of God is an important foundation to the Lord’s church.
– The Councils that are depicted in Acts are the same as the Sanhedrin. High Priests in these events are likely Sadducees with Caiaphas and Annas still in charge. Caiaphas and Annas were likely excited about the prospect of Jesus’s movement being squashed. It would have been a great embarrassment among the Sanhedrin to be confronted with His zealous followers, healing, teaching, and converting people.
– We sometimes don’t realize that Jesus was living in a communal way with His disciples since it is not emphasized in the accounts. However, it is clear that the apostles and other disciples were committed to living the law of consecration and sharing their resources in an effort to avoid materialism and division among their fellowship.
– Acts marks the official establishment of the church as apostles are called, missionaries are sent, and Peter takes the lead of the church. Doctrines and policies are being figured out and worked through. I think we sometimes think stuff like that is just going to be so clear to the leaders of the church, but revelations, doctrines, and policies are tough and require effort and adjustment.
– I love the change we see in Peter these first few chapters. From desperately needing Jesus’s approval, to denying the Christ, and now to this force of leadership and testimony. I think this highlights how if we can keep moving forward in faith we can become so much stronger.
Luke explains the purpose of the first scroll he wrote and then begins the second scroll by explaining the message Jesus gave His apostles before ascending into heaven. He told the apostles they must be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, followed by all the end of the earth. It seems that Jesus must have told them it was important for them to have 12 witnesses and so they gathered outside of Jerusalem to pray and select the apostle who would replace Judas Iscariot.
Two men were presented as options to fill the vacancy, Matthais and Barsabbas. They met with a group of disciples, including apostles and other women, who then prayed fervently to know who should be the next apostle. When they cast lots Matthais was chosen. Ancient Christian tradition had Matthais and Barsabbas as Seventies. It is likely that Barsabbas continued in this role moving forward and was later believed to become a bishop in Eleutheropolis where he died a martyr.
Shortly after Jesus’s ascension, many disciples were gathered together during the festival of Pentecost. This is when the promised Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and they all were filled and gifts of the spirit were bestowed upon them. They began preaching to the crowds of foreigners in Jerusalem for the festival, and even though the apostles spoke Aramaic, all of the people gathered there understood the preaching in their own language and they were amazed.
Some of the people gathered in the huge crowd made fun of the scene by saying they were all drunk and crazy. This gave Peter the chance to give his first witness of the Savior. He then addresses the crowd and gives a powerful witness of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. He quotes their own scriptures to show that these events are confirmation the spirit is with them and God is on their side. Many in the crowd feel this same spiritual witness and ask Peter what they should do? He tells them to repent and be baptized, and three thousand people who are witnesses to this event are baptized. I talk about it more later in the post, but Peter’s witness of the Savior in chapter 2 of Acts is just so powerful.
Some time after Pentecost on a trip to the temple, Peter and John come across a man who was being carried into the temple. The man had been lame from birth and unable to walk. The man asked them for money, but Peter instead tells the man to rise up and walk! The man is brought to his feet and begins to walk, then run, then jump and praise God. Since the man had been begging in that location for many years the people there were blown away by this miracle. They came to Peter and John and marveled at this miracle. Peter then takes the opportunity again to share his witness of the Christ. This time explaining that the Kingdom of God needs to be established in full before Jesus will return again and that it is imperative that we all join with them.
Many of the same people who had sought the death of Jesus months earlier hear their words and arrest Peter and John. However, this only serves to strengthen their witness and another five thousand people believe their words.
The next day Peter and John are brought before Caiaphas, Annas, and the Sanhedrin for questioning. Again, they are challenged about where they get their authority. Peter testifies the third time (parallel to the three denials), that he is a witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and his authority came from the Savior. Not only does he tell them where his authority comes from, but he also tells them they have no chance of salvation if they do not come to follow Christ as well.
The council is not sure what to do with this new problem and so they demand that Peter and John quit speaking about this. They, of course, reject that command and state that they will continue to preach of Jesus Christ. The council is afraid to hold them longer and so Peter and John are released and rejoin the other disciples. They then unite in prayer that they will be able to accomplish their mission despite the interference of the Sanhedrin.
Before the apostle’s next confrontation with the Sanhedrin we get a clue into the church community that is being built by the apostles. The church obviously had no money and no resources and so in an effort to solidify the movement the disciples apparently decided to live the law of consecration and have all things common among them. We learn of an apostle who sells property and brings it to the church and another strange story where two disciples sell their property but only give some of it to the church. Ananias and Sapphira are both struck dead after withholding and lying about their contribution. These deaths seemed to have struck at the heart of the church members and likely challenged them in ways they hadn’t expected, especially those who just joined the church a few weeks earlier.
This communal living did not discourage new converts and the church continues to grow as miracles and signs follow the apostles as they teach and baptize as many in Jerusalem that will believe. However, this success in growing the church only increases the scrutiny that the apostles are given by the Sanhedrin and they are arrested again.
This time the purpose behind the arrest is to eliminate the movement again. In fact, as they are challenged and testify of the Savior again the council is ready to stone and kill the apostles. Fearing reprisal from the thousands of new converts, and having seen movements like this in the past fall apart, a Pharisee named Gamaliel convinces the other council members to let the apostles go as if it is not from God it will fail, and if it is from God then they should not want it to fail.
There was no guarantee that the movement would succeed, communal living, persecution, new doctrines and revelations, a much more diverse membership, and the challenge of spreading the word was going to be tough. However, these apostles and disciples found joy that they were in the same company with Jesus in their persecutions and the challenges that faced them. Peter and the other apostles had truly been converted, filled with the spirit of leadership, and were ready to grow the gospel message around the world.
Why do you think the Lord doesn’t just make everything so clear to leaders of the church? or to us for that matter? Do you think the challenge was as difficult then as it is now?
How do we feel when our faith is challenged? How do we feel when we share our witness and faith in Jesus Christ with others?
What can we learn about living with all things in common? Even though we aren’t asked to do this now, what kind of things can we challenge ourselves to do so that it would be easier if we were asked to do it?
Key Moment or Scripture: Acts 2:22-24, 32-33, 36-38
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God through miracles, wonders and signs, which God performed through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-
23 This man, who was handed over to you by the ordained will and foreknowledge of God; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
24 But God raised him again, having released him from the pains of death because it was not possible for him to be held by death’s power…
32 God resurrected this Jesus, and we are all witnesses of him.
33 Therefore, being lifted up to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has demonstrated what you both see and hear…
36 “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When they heard this, they were troubled in heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
38 Peter answered them, “Repent, and be baptized, each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As I read this moment from Peter, especially verse 36, I was so full of the spirit. I can just imagine Peter, who had only recently been denying the Savior, declaring with such passion and conviction his witness. It is such a special thing to see his change and to see how many people were inspired to follow Christ because of his words.
When I was a missionary I used the “Repent and be baptized” verses all the time when teaching people. Those are crucial steps, but I think they reveal an even more important pattern that we must incorporate into our lives if we want to have the spirit in our lives. When we HEAR or READ words that inspire us to believe in Jesus Chirst, we need to act and try to find things we can CHANGE in our lives. If we will then COVENANT with God that we will keep trying to be better, then Holy Spirit on behalf of Jesus Christ will come and SANCTIFY and STRENGTHEN us. This cycle is the point of scripture study, church, and teaching each other. It allows us to grow closer to the Lord and to become the best version of ourselves.
As we go through Acts remember that we have a brand new church, brand new problems, thousands of new personalities, weird cultural traditions, and the challenges of ancient world that makes this church movement difficult. What is interesting is that these same challenges exist in our modern world and so there must be things we can learn as we study the apostles and apply to our lives.