Today we are continuing our conversation through the Book of Acts. Acts, in a gross oversimplification, is the actions of the disciples following Jesus’ ascension; a window into the beauty and complexity of the early church; an opportunity to see God empowering imperfect people in less than ideal circumstances while still accomplishing His will; and the living out of the Great Commission with movements where we see “to Jerusalem,” “to Judea,” “to Samaria,” and “to the ends of the world.”
There are some obstacles as we process this book. One, we can fixate on the people. But the people are not perfect. When we focus on the replication of imperfect people in imperfect situations, we end up being a poor imitation of something that we were never intended to emulate. And two, we can ignore the movements: to Jerusalem - to the insider; to Judea - to the neighbor; to Samaria - to the marginalized; and to the ends of the world - infinite. Context is crucial in understanding.
While recognizing the obstacles, let’s focus on the foundations: We are the embodiment of the New Covenant (be a blessing to all people). The Holy Spirit is empowering. Jesus is the constant. The church / body of Christ is the plan.
Today we come to a point of narrative where there is a miracle of healing, but the point of focus is not that miracle. It is actually a different miracle, or even a couple different miracles: the miracle of the people not giving up while they faced resistance, adversity and persecution, AND the miracle of a man (and many others) who were outsiders for so long finally having invitation into community and connection.
As we walk into this, let's get to a common starting point by doing some group brainstorming and then talking about it.
What are some things that can immediately change your life’s trajectory?
Life has trajectory. Life happens. Trajectory-changing moments happen. Sometimes those moments carry us along to a to a totally different distiantion than we were aiming towards: “Wow this changes everything--here we go!” But sometimes those moments should be challenged: “No! This will not change everything. I am not going to let this thing change anything!”
How do you know when a trajectory changing moment should be either challenged or followed?
Here are two more simple questions as we walk into the narrative: Do you want God’s help? Do you need God’s help?
Yes, of course. But as we walk into Acts 3 and 4 today, the question is a little more complicated than those. We will go deeper and farther, but I am going to ask a complicated, multifaceted question as we go:
How does God help you (or people in general) overcome obstacles?
I know this is vague: Are you talking about all obstacles? Are you talking about church obstacles? Are you talking about God’s will obstacles? Are you talking about specific obstacles?
You have direction. You have focus. You have a path and a plan. And life happens. And it is decided that it is a moment to not be deterred even though there is plenty of deterrent. How does God help?
Again, you are pointing towards something and obstacles surface, and not being deterred is the resolve. How does God help?
How does God help you (or people in general) overcome obstacles?
Now we need to walk into something complicated and difficult but essential and foundational: faith in God’s help.
Okay, God--You are God. I bet you can do something, whatever that is...
How does a person build faith that God will help?
Scripture is loaded with declarations of God’s help.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13)
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. (Psalm 54:4)
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
There are pages and pages of scripture on the confidence in God’s help.
Where we are going today there is a miracle of healing. But I feel like the flashing light, arrows-pointing-here miracle is the faith of the people. Specifically, we will see the faith of Peter.
How does a person build faith that God will help?
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’
“Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:1-26)
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed one.’
“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:1-32)
Today we have talked about trajectory-changing moments, about those that should be followed and those that should be fought through, about how God helps, and about how a person builds faith in God’s help.
These things are huge. And there’s a lot of complexity to God’s helping in this narrative, and how people were involved.
Think about the complexity of a God helping people. And think about the complexity of not just one person, but many people, deciding to trust and act upon God’s help.
Now we bring this narrative to those questions:
How did God help in this narrative?
How did the people in this narrative have such faith in God’s help?
How does this challenge, focus, encourage and/or frustrate you?
The narrative of chapters 3 and 4 ends the same way as the narrative of chapters 1 and 2, with a snapshot into culture.
There are so many amazing moments that we could make mention of: Peter’s zeal or boldness that wasn’t present when he denied Jesus. God’s invitation through Peter to repent and follow Him, even to the very people who were responsible for Jesus’ death. Miracles.
And what does it all lead into? This picture of unity and generosity among the community of Jesus followers.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)
Think about the hundreds of trajectories that people in this community were on when they met Jesus. And how for many of them, meeting Him and following Him was a complete change of trajectory. And then imagine that, after three years of a trajectory of following Jesus, these people watch Him get arrested, sentenced and executed. Everything they were living in and moving toward now had another trajectory change. And then imagine the moment of even crazier trajectory change, when Jesus comes back to life and promises His followers that the literal spirit of God would come meet with them and empower them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. So many shifts of direction.
I feel like this could have been a moment to give everything to Peter. Or maybe it could have been a vengeful moment, or a moment of hollow excitement or hollow commitment.
But instead it was a moment that led to generosity.
Through all of the trajectories these people experienced, something put them into a place of unity--a unity that led to communal sharing. Not communism, where things were taken from people and distributed to everyone, but truly communal living, where people took what they had and chose to give it to those who had need. What causes that kind of generosity to take root?
Why does God’s helping and our faith in it lead to generosity?
How does that challenge, encourage, confuse or focus you today?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Acts 4
- Are there any religious practices that you have participated in that you don’t do any longer or never really understood the purpose of?
- How would you feel and/or how would you respond to being jailed for your beliefs?
- How would your friends and family feel/respond?
- How do you explain/process the reality that sometimes God delivers from hardship and sometimes does not?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, confused and/or focused by this narrative?
Bible Reading Plan
- Deuteronomy 1
- Deuteronomy 2
- Deuteronomy 3
- Acts 7
- Acts 8
- Acts 9