Three Months with the Spirit is popular author Justo Gonzalez study of the Acts of the Apostles. Eminently readable, the study uses the see-judge-act method to bring readers closer to the text and informs and challenges the daily life of the Christian.
These thirteen studies can be used for Sunday school, for evening Bible study, for home study meetings, for faith communities, for retreats, and for personal Bible study. In addition, Three Months with the Spirit can easily be used as a daily Bible study as each lesson is divided into seven parts.
About the Author
Justo L. González has taught at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico and Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He is the author of many books, including Church History: An Essential Guide and To All Nations From All Nations, both published by Abingdon Press.
Justo L. González es un ampliamente leído y respetado historiador y teólogo. Es el autor de numerosas obras que incluyen tres volúmenes de su Historia del Pensamiento Cristiano, la colección de Tres Meses en la Escuela de... (Mateo... Juan... Patmos... Prisión... Espíritu), Breve Historia de las Doctrinas Cristianas y El ministerio de la palabra escrita, todas publicadas por Abingdon Press.
Read an Excerpt
Three months with The Spirit
By Justo L. González
Abingdon PressCopyright © 1997 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
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First Day: Read Acts 1:1-3.
See: Acts is the continuation of the Gospel of Luke. In the first four verses of that Gospel, you will note that the book is addressed to a certain Theophilus. In today's reading we see that Acts is addressed to the same person. That is why Acts begins with the words "In the first book."
One could then say that Acts is the second part of a two-volume work. The first volume tells us about Jesus, and the second about the Holy Spirit. But the two are interwoven, for Acts tells us that Jesus gave his instructions "through the Holy Spirit." (Remember that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is born by action of the Spirit, so that now Jesus is giving his instructions through the same Spirit.) The Gospel of Luke speaks of Jesus, in whom the Spirit works. Acts tells us about the Spirit, through whom Jesus is made present. That is why this particular study of Acts is called Three Months with the Spirit.
Judge: When Luke wrote this book, he did not give it a title. The name of "Acts of the Apostles" was given by somebody else, probably in the second century, as a way to refer to this second book that Luke addressed to Theophilus. But the truth is that Acts is not so much about the apostles as it is about the Holy Spirit. In the first weeks of this study we shall see that the apostles are indeed central characters in the narrative. But already in chapter 6 these twelve move away from the center narrative, and eventually they disappear. Even Paul, who will soon occupy center stage, is not the main character of the story, for Luke does not even tell us what happened to him after he arrived at Rome.
The central character of the story is the Holy Spirit, who is present in the apostles and in the rest of the church. The purpose of the story is to lead us to understand how the Holy Spirit acts in the church, so that we may make allowance for such action in ourselves and in today's church.
Act: Make a commitment to read Acts with a new perspective, as the "acts of the Spirit." Pray, inviting the Spirit to act in you as the Spirit acted in those early Christians.
Second Day: Read Acts 1:4-8.
See: The passage deals with the promise of the Spirit and its power. But as part of that promise Jesus must clarify its purpose. The disciples wished to know if this was the time when Jesus would establish the Reign. But Jesus told them that they should not be concerned about this matter, for "it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority" (verse 7). That is to say that the matter of when the Reign would come, or when Jesus would return, was not their concern. It was not to that end that Jesus promised them the gift of the Spirit. Verse 8 begins with the word "But," which lets us know that Jesus was offering an alternative. The word "but" introduces the actual purpose of the promise of the Spirit, which is to provide the power to testify. No matter how eager the disciples may have been to know when all the things that Christians awaited would be fulfilled, their task was not to inquire about it. Their task was to be witnesses. And they would do this, not through their own power, but by the power of the Spirit.
Judge: It is important to understand this, for even today there are many Christians who think that if one has the Holy Spirit this should give one the clue to know, for instance, when the Lord will return. But the truth is that Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that such matters are beyond our reach. Today's text shows that our concern and our occupation are to be different: It is a matter not of knowing "the times or periods," but rather of being witnesses.
Do you know someone who thinks that he or she knows when the promises of the end times will be fulfilled? Some such people claim to have that knowledge because the Holy Spirit has revealed it to them, or because they have discovered the key to unlock the meaning of Scripture in this regard.
In the light of today's passage, what do you think Jesus would say about this?
Act: Make a decision that throughout this study your main purpose will be not curiosity, but rather obedience — above all, obedience in witnessing. Pray that God will help you in this purpose.
Third Day: Read Acts 1:9-12.
See: Compare this text with Luke 24:50-52. Note that Luke is the only one among the Gospel writers who carries the story of Jesus on to the Ascension.
Probably the most interesting detail in this passage is that, when the disciples seemed to be perplexed and looking at heaven, the two men in white robes confirmed the promise that Jesus would return. But in spite of that they told the disciples that what they were to do was not to remain there looking at the sky, but rather to go to Jerusalem. As a result, the disciples returned to Jerusalem, as Jesus had told them to (Acts 1:4, 8; Luke 24:49).
Judge: Note that the two men promised the disciples not that they would go to heaven but rather that Jesus would return to earth. Meanwhile, what the disciples were to do was to be faithful on earth. They were to go to Jerusalem, where Jesus told them that they should expect the gift of the Spirit. And eventually, from Jerusalem, they were to go "to the ends of the earth."
Christians have always had the tendency to remain static, "gazing up toward heaven," and forgetting about earth and what Jesus demands of us here and now. Using heaven as an excuse, some Christians have allowed great injustices without protesting in the name of their faith. Thus, for instance, during the conquest of the western hemisphere the original inhabitants of these lands were mistreated, exploited, even annihilated, and sometimes this was done with the excuse that their souls were being saved so that they could go to heaven.
But it is not necessary to go so far back in time. Similar attitudes exist even today among Christians of every nation and persuasion. They existed among the disciples, and if we are not careful, they will also exist in us.
Act: Have you ever been tempted to stand looking at heaven, where Jesus is, and forget the earth, where we are to be obedient? Reflect on that temptation and the shapes it takes, and write down your reflection.
Look around you, and ask yourself where is the "road to Jerusalem" where Jesus wishes you to begin your witnessing. Pray over it, discuss it with other people in your faith community, and write down your reflections and decisions.
Fourth Day: Read Acts 1:13-26.
See: The passage tells us of the election of someone to take the place vacated by Judas. With that end in mind, Peter established certain criteria or prerequisites that the person to be elected had to meet: It had to be someone who had been with Jesus from the beginning, "from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us." Apparently, the group accepted this suggestion, and two people were named as possible candidates to take the place of Judas: Joseph Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Neither of these is mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament; therefore, all that is known about them is what this passage tells us. At any rate, they cast lots and this resulted in the naming of Matthias, who from that point on would be one of the Twelve.
Judge: When we study this passage, we are surprised because the requirements that Peter proposed for the person to be elected went beyond those met by many of the other eleven. In the Gospels we are told that Jesus called the disciples at various times in his ministry. Therefore, with the possible exception of the first four, the rest did not meet the requirements now established. As for being with Jesus "all the time," even Peter himself did not meet the requirement, for he deserted Jesus and fled. The same was true of all the others, except for John and the women who remained at the cross.
Do you know of instances in which, when it is time to name new leadership, requirements are set that did not exist before and that perhaps even the existing leadership does not meet? Could this be because the current leadership wants to manipulate and control?
Act: Think about the manner in which your church carries forth its mission in your neighborhood. Peter thought that since the original group contained twelve, they should forever be twelve. Is there a similar attitude in your church? Do your structures and procedures take changing situations into account? What sort of change may be required so your church can be more effective in mission?
Think and pray over this. Write down your ideas and conclusions. Make sure you discuss them with your pastor and other leaders in your church.
Fifth Day: Read Acts 2:1-13.
See: The events took place on the "day of Pentecost," a traditional Jewish festival. For that festival, people from many different countries had gathered in Jerusalem, and when the disciples who had received the Spirit spoke, the various people understood them, each in his or her own native tongue. Many were amazed by this understanding, but others scoffed, saying that those who spoke were drunk.
Note that the text underscores the unity of the followers of Jesus, saying that they were "all together in one place."
Note also the play on words (which exists also in the original Greek language) between the "tongues" of fire and the "tongues" that people spoke.
Note above all that the purpose of these different tongues is not to edify those who speak, but rather to make the witness about Jesus available to those whose mother tongues they are. Note finally that those who received the Spirit and spoke were not only the twelve, but also all those who were gathered, including women.
Judge: For today's meditation, center your attention on two subjects. The first is that what we saw earlier regarding the promise of the Holy Spirit is now fulfilled. Thanks to the power of the Spirit, the disciples become witnesses.
Second, notice that when the disciples received the Holy Spirit, people heard them, each in his or her own tongue. In order to listen and respond to the proclamation of the gospel, one did not have to understand the language of the first disciples, nor did one have to become like them. From its very birth at Pentecost, the church has been multilingual and multicultural. Sometimes, Christians in a majority or dominant culture think that others have to learn their language and culture, and to worship just as they do. At Pentecost, the Spirit did not reject the diversity of tongues in which the gospel is to be spoken and lived out, but rather accepted and even affirmed it.
Act: Ask yourself the following questions, and write down your reflections:
Do I give witness to Jesus Christ with the full fervor and strength of one who has received the Holy Spirit?
Do we love and support one another in church with all the love of those who have received the Holy Spirit?
How does my church reflect the fact that the Spirit makes it possible for people to listen in their own language and culture?
Sixth Day: Read Acts 2:14-21.
See: Peter's speech was a response to the mocking attitude of some. Although we generally imagine that they were laughing or scoffing at the disciples, the text does not necessarily say that. It rather seems to say that they were mocking the full event, the disciples as well as those who heard them in amazement.
Peter began by quoting words of Joel referring to "the last days." In other words, Peter was claiming that the last days had begun with the gift of the Holy Spirit and that ever since, we have been living in those last days, even though centuries have gone by.
What characterizes those last days, according to the quotation from Joel and to Peter's speech, is the gift of the Holy Spirit that undermines the distinctions of power and hierarchy that might otherwise exist. Thus, both the sons and the daughters shall prophesy, the young shall see visions, the elderly shall dream dreams, and even the slaves, both men and women, will receive the same power of the Spirit.
Judge: The society into which the church was born was much divided by inequality. Fathers had absolute authority over their children, even when the latter were fully grown. The elderly had authority over the young, men over women, masters over slaves, priests over the rest of the people. The gift of the Spirit, as interpreted by Peter on the basis of the words of Joel, questions all such hierarchies. Now the sons and daughters prophesy, and even the slaves have the same gift of the Spirit as anyone else.
In our society there are still inequalities. Sadly, sometimes we find in our own churches inequalities that we have learned or have copied from the surrounding society or even from the society of the first century.
Act: What relationship do you see between the gift of the Holy Spirit and the power to create a community that overcomes inequality? Is there any relationship between being such a community and having the power to testify?
Write down your reflections and share them with others.
Seventh Day: Read Acts 2:22-41.
See: This passage is the continuation of Peter's speech, which may be divided into three parts, each beginning with a direct address from Peter to his audience: "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem" (verse 14); "You that are Israelites" (verse 22); "Fellow Israelites" (verse 29). What we are studying today are the second and third parts of that speech (verses 22-36), and the response of those who hear it (verses 37-41).
After interpreting what was taking place by means of the quotation from Joel, Peter moved to the center of his message, which was none other than Jesus Christ himself. What Peter said was known, at least in part, by his hearers. He said that his audience knew that Jesus of Nazareth was approved by God, as might be seen in the many miracles and wonders he did. His hearers already knew this. They also knew that they themselves plotted to destroy Jesus. What they did not know, and what Peter emphasized, was that all of this happened not simply because of their iniquity, but also because God so ordered it (verse 23). And what they knew even less was that in spite of all that was done to destroy Jesus, it did not succeed, for even death was not powerful enough to contain him. Following an argument on the basis of Psalm 110, Peter declared that Jesus rose again, and that "God has made him both Lord and Messiah" (verse 36).
It was in the midst of this speech that Peter explained, almost in passing, why the disciples acted as they did, when he said in verse 32: "of that all of us are witnesses." What this meant was not only that they saw it but also that now, by the power of the Spirit that had come upon them, they were witnessing (which is precisely what Jesus promised them in Acts 1:8).
The text turns then to the response of those who heard Peter's speech (verses 37-41). Even though that speech had been strong and even offensive, accusing them of having been part of the plot against Jesus, these people listened to Peter, and did repent. When they asked Peter what they were to do, he told them that they were to repent and be baptized. Then, as a consequence of the events of Pentecost, of Peter's speech, but above all of the power of the Spirit, thousands did repent and were baptized.
Judge: The first thing that surprises us when we come to this point in Peter's speech is that he claimed that his hearers were guilty of the death of Jesus. If we read the Gospel of Luke, that is, the first volume of this work in two volumes, we will see that not all Jews plotted to kill Jesus. On the contrary, it was the religious and political leaders, the high priests and the members of the council, who plotted to kill him. Furthermore, both in his Gospel and in Acts, Luke sets a marked contrast between the attitude of this religious and political elite and that of the people in general. The people were sympathetic toward Jesus and his disciples. The powerful were afraid to arrest Jesus in a public place, for they feared a riot on the part of the people. Further on in this study we shall see that the same was true with regard to the early church. The powerful and the members of the council sought to persecute and crush the disciples, but they did not dare for fear of the people.
Why then did Peter say that those who heard him were guilty of the death of Jesus?
We have seen that these people came from different places, many of them quite far away. Given the social structure of Judea at the time, those Jews born and raised outside of Judea were looked at askance by those from Judea. They certainly were not part of the council, nor were they priests of the higher echelons. However, Peter said that they were part of the process that led to the death of Jesus.
This indicates that those who share power cannot hide behind their own lack of authority. If they agree to the plots of the powerful, if they do not oppose them, they too are guilty of whatever the powerful do.
There is an old Spanish proverb to the effect that one who kills a cow is not guiltier than the one who holds it down. Those who plotted and planned in order to take Jesus to the cross became guilty of his death. And those who simply accepted what the powerful were doing, and who at the end shouted "crucify him," and even those who simply went home without protesting, all made themselves guilty by what they did not do. (Which does not mean, as many have thought erroneously and with tragic consequences, that all Jews were guilty of the death of Jesus.) The guilt belonged to those who at that point allowed themselves to be used in the plot, or did not oppose it. It belonged also to the Roman authorities, who were the ones who actually crucified Jesus. And it belonged even to Peter, who simply denied Jesus and fled.
Excerpted from Three months with The Spirit by Justo L. González. Copyright © 1997 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
Week 1: Acts 1–2:41,
Week 2: Acts 2:42–5:11,
Week 3: Acts 5:12–8:25,
Week 4: Acts 8:26–10,
Week 5: Acts 11–13:12,
Week 6: Acts 13:13–15:29,
Week 7: Acts 15:30–16:34,
Week 8: Acts 16:35–18:23,
Week 9: Acts 18:24–19,
Week 10: Acts 20–22:24,
Week 11: Acts 22:25–23,
Week 12: Acts 24–27:12,
Week 13: Acts 27:13–28,