Read an Excerpt
ActsThe Message of Jesus in Action
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010 Ajith Fernando, Karen Lee-Thorp, and Karen H. Jobes
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSession 1
Preparing for Pentecost
In 1857 the booming American economy took a dive. Unemployment rose and investors panicked. A quiet middle-aged businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, started a noontime weekly prayer meeting for business people in New York City. "On the first day Lanphier prayed alone for half an hour. But by the end of the hour six men from at least four denominational backgrounds had joined him. Twenty came the next week and forty the week after. Soon they decided to meet daily, and the group swelled to over one hundred. Pastors who came started morning prayer meetings in their own churches. Soon similar meetings were being held all over America. Within six months there were more than ten thousand meeting daily in New York City alone.... It is estimated that in a two-year period (1857-1859), two million people were led to Christ (out of a population of thirty million)."
All Lanphier did was follow the pattern laid out in Acts 1. He prayed. He gathered others for prayer. And God responded with the Holy Spirit, not to enrich Lanphier materially, but to draw unbelievers to faith.
JESUS' FINAL INSTRUCTIONS
Read Acts 1:1-8.
After his suffering on the cross, Jesus met repeatedly with his apostles and "gave many convincing proofs that he was alive" (1:3).
1. Why was objective, rational evidence for the resurrection important to the apostles?
2. Do you believe there is convincing evidence that Jesus is alive-not just alive in our hearts, but alive as a person who will someday return bodily to earth? If so, describe some of that evidence. If not, talk about how the lack of convincing evidence affects you, if at all.
Many people today are less interested in objective facts "out there" than in subjective experience, the ideas and feelings we have inside us. They have the notion that head and heart are opposites, and that we should listen to our hearts rather than our heads. But Luke emphasizes head and heart as allies in the search for truth. He cares about objective evidence for historical events like the resurrection, and he cares about subjective experiences like power and guidance from the Holy Spirit. For Luke, it's not Reason or the Spirit, but Reason and the Spirit.
3. Which of these sounds more like you, and why?
I tend to value reason and objective evidence as the foundation for my beliefs.
I tend to value personal experiences and intuition as the foundation for my beliefs.
I tend to value both equally.
I base my beliefs on other things, such as ______________________.
The kingdom of God (1:3) is central to Jesus' teaching. The transcendent God is King, and we must submit to his rule. This idea clashes with the pluralism of our time, which gives each individual the authority to decide what to believe and do. It also clashes with the popular notion that the divine is something within us, not Someone above us.
4. Think of a non-Christian you know. How would that person respond to the idea of God as King, and why?
How is it possible for us to encourage such a person to believe that God is a King worth submitting to?
["Baptized with" (1:5) means "immersed into," or even "deluged or flooded with."] The baptism with the Holy Spirit implies a full experience of the Spirit, which among other things empowers us for witness. Paul makes fullness of the Spirit mandatory for Christians with the imperative: "Be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18).... The early church showed that being filled with the Spirit was mandatory for Christians by making it a basic qualification for those who were to administer the distribution of food (Acts 6:3). Therefore, even if this baptism refers to conversion-initiation, Christians who are not experiencing God's fullness in their lives are a scandal, an anomaly.
5. Do you believe Christians today ought to routinely experience the Holy Spirit filling them and empowering them for witness (1:8)? Why or why not?
Jesus tells the apostles not to focus on when he will return, but on their job of witnessing to the truth while awaiting his return (1:6-8). They are interested in an end-times triumph that will be good for them and their nation, but Jesus wants them to be concerned about other people, even those around the world.
6. Given what Jesus says in 1:6-8, why do you think so many Christians show more interest in figuring out when Jesus will come back than in spreading the gospel around the world?
If something that the Bible testifies about is not true in our lives, we must stop all our activity and grapple with God until we know that it is true for us, just as the disciples waited in Jerusalem, devoting themselves to prayer (1:14). To believe in the Bible is to believe that what it says works, does in fact work.
AFTER THE ASCENSION
Read Acts 1:9-26.
Jesus' ascension (1:9) means that he is exalted to the Father's right hand. He rules with the Father and shares his divine glory (Eph. 1:20-21). Just as Jesus' resurrection was an objective, historical event that happened bodily on a particular day in a particular place, so was his ascension. This exaltation becomes a central feature of the gospel message throughout Acts (2:33; 3:20-21; 4:11; 5:31).
7. Instead of waiting passively for Jesus to return (1:11), the apostles take action. The first thing they do is start praying together "constantly" along with Jesus' family and his women disciples (1:14). What strikes you as significant about this action?
[W]hy do we need to keep on praying? Is God so reluctant to answer our prayers that we have to keep on asking him? No, he is not reluctant to give, but often we may not be ready to receive his gift. Prayer makes us ready, for in communion with God our hearts are attuned to his will. Furthermore, prayer is a way of engaging in spiritual warfare against Satan and his forces.
8. What do you need to pray for persistently?
Do you pray for power from the Holy Spirit for witness? Why or why not?
9. Why is group prayer so important?
The apostles also choose a successor for Judas so that there will be twelve official witnesses who have seen Jesus risen from the dead. Israel had twelve tribes, and the twelve apostles represent the remnant of Israel, faithful to God's Messiah even though the rest of the nation rejects him.
10. Why does Peter think Judas's treachery was part of God's sovereign plan (1:15-20)?
11. Judas was one of Peter's closest comrades, yet Peter speaks of Judas's betrayal without bitterness. Have you ever been betrayed by someone close to you? If so, how has that experience affected you?
12. The disciples didn't let this experience of betrayal and humiliation keep them from trusting each other and forming a close community. What do you think helped them deal with this hurt?
RESPONDING TO GOD'S WORD IN YOUR GROUP:
God responds to persistent group prayer when a group prays for things God cares about. Consider committing to pray together throughout this study for:
The fullness of the Holy Spirit-all of the Spirit that God wants to give each of you.
Unbelievers in your lives. (You can pass around a sheet of paper and let each person add first names. Then make copies for everyone before your next meeting.)
Lord, we want all of your Spirit that you want to give us. We don't want to hold back anything of ourselves, and we don't want to reject anything of you. We want the power of your Spirit to bravely speak about what you've done. Please tear down any barriers within us that prevent you from working through us. If we are carrying any bitterness against those who have hurt us, please heal us. We trust that you are using every hurt as part of your plan for good in the world, even if we don't understand how. Please be at work in the lives of those around us who don't know you, and please empower us to be your witnesses to them. We ask this in your name. Amen.
ON YOUR OWN:
God often does powerful things when his people pray his Word back to him. Use Acts 1:8 as a basis for prayer, asking God for the power of his Spirit to be his witness. Maybe that feels presumptuous or intimidating, because you're not keen to be a missionary or a public evangelist. Those public ministries may not be what God has in mind for you, but he has some role for you to play in the story he began in the Scriptures and continues to this day.
Excerpted from Acts Copyright © 2010 by Ajith Fernando, Karen Lee-Thorp, and Karen H. Jobes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.