Acts

Extraordinary - Acts 12:1-19

1.      Has there been a time when you felt persecuted or marginalized for your faith?

2.      How did you respond?

3.      What did you learn about yourself and about God?

4.      Have you ever been down to your last hope?

5.      How would you describe your feelings at that time? (Sometimes we come to a point where we realize we’re powerless to change a situation. God’s demonstration of His extraordinary power is most apparent when we reach the end of our own ability.)

Today we will study about a situation that the Apostle Peter experienced to which I do not believe any of us can fully relate. Peter, the one who answered Jesus’ question when asked “Who do you say that I am?” answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” This same Apostle denied His Lord three times when the test at Jesus’ trial came to him. But now he is the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem and standing for Christ in the face of death! Peter had come a long way in the past few years.

 

To set the context of our focal passage read Acts 12:1-6.

1.      What do you suppose was the focus of the prayers the church was offering up on Peter’s behalf?

2.      What was Peter doing? How could this be?

3.      What does it say to you about Peter’s faith that he slept so soundly on the night before his scheduled execution?

(Describe the guard situation to keep Peter in prison.)

4.      In what ways did Peter’s situation seem hopeless from a human standpoint?

Deliverance! Read Acts 12:7-10

 

1.      How did Peter respond to the angel’s prodding and command to get up?

2.      What did Peter think was happening?

3.      The chains literally fell off of Peter’s wrists, they walked past two guard posts, and the outer gate opened by itself. How does this encourage you that God can deliver you from whatever binds you?

4.      Why was James “killed by the sword” and Peter delivered from the very jaws of death?

There are Christians around the world today who are being persecuted for their faith. There is a man that we call Tang who is from India. One of our scholarship funds helped him to attend and complete his Seminary degree at Southwestern in Fort Worth. After completing his degree he and his family returned to India and began to pastor a church. A few months ago he went to another state in India to share the gospel. The officials there are very hostile to the gospel and as a result he was arrested when he refused to deny that he was a Christian and beaten for approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. He was finally rescued and allowed to go back home after some time in prison. His life was spared this time but he is determined to share the gospel with these people as God gives opportunity.

There are some people who would have you believe that if your faith is strong enough God will always deliver you. That simply is not true! There are scores of examples in Scripture. All we have to do is read Hebrews 11. God in His sovereignty decides whether to extend a person’s physical life through divine intervention or whether to bring that believer home with the affirmation, “Well done.”  The point is that God has different plans for different lives. The death of James and the deliverance of Peter both accomplished God’s purpose for their lives. (Ps 23)

5.      How does Peter’s release demonstrate the care God has for us, even in suffering? (God is aware of our situations and will provide all that is necessary to accomplish His will for our lives at the time it is needed.)

 

Delight! Read Acts 12:11-12

 

1.      How did Peter respond when he realized God had rescued him? (He acknowledged God’s work in his life and expressed praise. He made his way to a house occupied by believers who were praying.)

2.      What does it say about the character of the church that Peter knew exactly where to find them once he was released?

3.      When we pause and look back on our lives, there can be times when we see God’s movement at strategic moments to accomplish His purposes. When you reflect on your life, when have you seen God move in such a way?

4.      How does our church practice fervent prayer? (There are several of our Sunday School Departmentsand individual classes that have a special time of prayer on a monthly or weekly basis. We have a monthly Deacon’s prayer meeting. We have the prayer room. There are also special called times of prayer when specific needs arise. We have seen God do miraculous things!)

5.      When have you been blessed by God’s extraordinary work in your life and how did you express your thankfulness to God?

There are times when miracles happen and we attribute it to something else. Look for miracles every day.

 

Read Acts 12:13-15.

We don’t know the specifics about their prayers for Peter, but if they were praying for his release they refused to believe it when it happened. But they were most likely praying for Peter to be strong in the face of this certain death sentence.

 

Determined! Read Acts 12:16-17

 

1.      Has there been a time in your life when you were persistent in asking God for something, and when He answered the prayer, you were skeptical of the response? (Many times when we pray fervently about something, we have preconceived ideas about how God is going to answer our prayer and when it doesn’t happen the way we thought it would we think it was a coincidence and not God at all.)

2.      What makes us skeptical of God working in an unexpected way?

3.      How does seeing the outcome of a miracle move us away from our skepticism?

Some may ask why Peter went somewhere else instead of stayingand continuing his ministry there. Peter was still in imminent danger. We must rely upon the Holy Spirit to give us guidance and direction, then be willing to follow just as Peter did.

 

Disturbance! Read Acts 12:18-19

 

1.      How would you characterize the response to Peter’s escape?

2.      How did the king respond?

3.      How does Peter’s miraculous deliverance illustrate the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility? (We must follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit and leave the rest up to God.)

God’s work was going to be accomplished. By God’s plan, Peter was critical in the gospel’s expansion.

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      What can we learn from Peter’s experience of being jailed for sharing the gospel message and being delivered by God?

·         God’s work is beyond our comprehension and ability to explain.

·         God is faithful to those who serve Him, even when they experience difficulty for His sake.

·         God honors the prayers of the faithful.

2.      Think of some recent times when you have prayed for others. How would you rate the strength of your faith in the Lord to do marvelous, even miraculous, things in response to your prayers?

3.      How can we show trust in the Lord’s grace even when His answers aren’t what we hoped for or expected?

 

What happened to Herod in the next few verses?

Close with payer praising God for all He does for us and through us!

 

Faithful - Acts 5:12-42

1.      What are some words or phrases you would use to define or illustrate the word “faithful”? (Constant, dedicated, devoted, devout, loyal, pious, staunch, steadfast, steady, true, dependable, reliable, responsible, solid, tried, trustworthy.

“Firm to one’s allegiance to someone or something!” “Following an original exactly.”)

2.      What motivates people to stand for a cause they believe in or will be faithful to? (People who take a stand are motivated by passion for their cause. It also takes courage to take a stand, particularly when standing up for our faith.)

3.      What are some ways a person willing to take a stand might respond to opposition? (Challenges to our faith are inevitable, as illustrated by today’s Scripture passage. The challenges sometimes involve persecution and physical pain.)

4.      What does faithfulness to Christ and His church look like?

 

The leaders in the early church in Jerusalem were bold in the proclamation of the gospel, even in the face of persecution, as we saw last week. But the persecution would only get worse as the Apostles’ boldness in sharing the gospel grew.

 

Luke records in Acts 5:12-16 that the church was growing by leaps and bounds. People were bringing the sick out into the streets so that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them. People were bringing the sick from surrounding towns and they were being healed.

The Jewish religious leaders were filled with jealousy so they arrested the Apostles and had them put in the city jail. But an angel of the Lord opened the jail doors and told the Apostles to go proclaim the Word of God in the temple complex and they obeyed.

Read Acts 5:21-24.

 

At this point you would think the Jewish leaders would simply repent and accept the truth of the gospel, but that didn’t happen.

 

Returning to the Scene! Read Acts 5:25-28

 

1.      Why do you think the Sanhedrin didn’t address the miraculous escape from jail?

2.      What motivated the religious leaders to silence the apostles?

3.      How is that motive seen in today’s world?

4.      What do these verses reveal about the apostles’ determination to share the gospel amid opposition?

5.      How does the apostles’ opposition compare with what most believers experience today?

6.      How faithful will we be in sharing the gospel when opposition comes?

 

Standing Their Ground! Read Acts 5:29-32

 

Peter did not deny that they had deliberately disobeyed the orders of the Sanhedrin; he did, however, indicate that they were following instructions from God.

1.      What is civil disobedience? (Refusal to comply with certain laws or to pay taxes and fines, as a peaceful form of political protest.)

2.      When is it appropriate for believers to submit to earthly authorities?

3.      How can we know when it is appropriate to disobey our civil laws? (We should obey laws in general, but sometimes it’s necessary to disobey laws that are contrary to God’s directives. We can depend on the Holy Spirit to lead us in the right direction.)

Key Doctrine: God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word.

4.      What message did Peter choose to share before the Sanhedrin—again?

5.      Why was this message more powerful than other things he could have said? (The gospel is the power of God unto salvation!)

 

Waiting During Deliberations! Read Acts 5:33-39

 

1.      Why might their rage have caused them to consider killing these men? (The Jewish leaders almost lost control of their emotions by acting impulsively.)

2.      What do we know about Gamaliel from this passage and others? (Gamaliel took a bold stand by addressing the Sanhedrin. He was most likely one of the older members of the council. He was a highly respected Jewish teacher and a Pharisee. Paul learned at the feet of Gamaliel. He was a voice of reason.)

3.      What wisdom do you see in Gamaliel’s proposal to the council?

4.      How might his words help believers today who face opposition to the gospel?

5.      Have you ever been guilty of fighting against God?

6.      What was the result?

Gamaliel stated that the test of time would prove the apostles’ message as true or false, and it has!

 

Rejoicing for the Opportunity! Read Acts 5:40-42

 

1.      What would you say to give a recap of what happened in these verses? (The apostles were punished that day; they received a severe beating and were ordered once again to STOP teaching and preaching in the name of this man Jesus.)

2.      How did the apostles respond to their treatment by the council?

3.      How can opposition to the gospel produce encouragement and courage in believers? (Jesus was also opposed by those in power, so we are in good company when we are opposed for proclaiming the truth of Scripture.)

4.      How does opposition and persecution provide a platform for the gospel to be shared and lived? (Even today when Christians are told by the authorities to either do something that is against the teachings of the Bible or stop doing something that the Bible clearly teaches us to do WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MAN! Nothing has changed in the last 2000 years, we must be faithful to God, no matter what others say or do.)

5.      How can we turn opposition for our faith into an opportunity to speak up for Christ? (Remember that the truth of the gospel is trustworthy and can be shared with confidence. We, as believers, can rejoice when persecuted, realizing that the gospel was proclaimed in the process.)

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

Self-evaluation:

1.      When has my faith been challenged or opposed by others?

2.      When have I boldly proclaimed the truth of the gospel in the face of persecution?

3.      Consider times in your life when someone challenged your faith. How did you respond?

4.      What can you learn from the response of the apostles to help you respond when facing opposition in the future?

 

We don’t actually know how many of the apostles were involved in this incident, but we do know it was more than one. We know from personal experience that it is much easier to stand for what is right when we are not standing alone! We need to stand together for the truth of God’s Word, but if the situation should come when we must stand alone know that the Holy Spirit is right there with you and will give you strength to do what is right in the face of opposition.

 

Rely on God’s strength to be faithful to Him in all circumstances.

 

Close with a prayer of commitment.

 

Unified - Acts 2:41-47

  For those of you who have been gone a Sunday or two, we started a new study in the book of Acts, the first Sunday of March.  On that first Sunday we saw the instructions of Jesus in Acts 1:8 as he told the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This is the same Great Commission we studied in Matthew. Last Sunday we saw and heard that power, described as wind and fire from heaven, as “it filled the whole house where they were staying with the Holy Spirit.” This was the beginning of the first Church and was witnessed by a large number of people from many different countries.

 

  Last Sunday’s lesson ended at Acts 2:15 with Peter stepping up to get the crowd’s attention and explain what was and was not happening. Today’s lesson begins in Acts 2:41-47 and essentially skips verses 16-40 in which the newly empowered Peter explains the meaning of the events the crowd had just witnessed.  He cited Scripture from the Old Testament prophet Joel as evidence these happenings were a fulfillment of prophecy, and he identified Jesus, whom they had crucified, as the resurrected Lord and Messiah who had poured out the Spirit upon His followers. Many in the crowd fell under deep conviction and asked what response they needed to make to Peter’s message. I think Peter offered them the first altar call. He instructed them to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” Acts 2:38. Another thought he stressed to the huge crowd is in 2:40 where he tells them to “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Isn’t it fascinating how the words of the bible apply to our world today!

 

Read Acts 2:41-42

   How did people respond to Peter’s sermon? About 3,000 were saved, baptized and became involved in the community of believers (Church).

   What is the logistical reality of verse 41? A large area was needed to hold thousands of people. Peter did not have a snazzy sound system. God allowed everyone to hear, and as we studied last Sunday, they could hear in their own language.

   Can you imagine any Church growing from 120 to over 3,000 in one day? Our Pastor Todd and the Fusion Church will have baptisms several times a year to baptize 20 or 30 people. Don’t you know he would love to baptize 3,000 people in one day? I have no doubt he could figure out how to do it.

   What might an outpouring of God’s miraculous grace with an outcome like this mean to our church today? Blessings on our church and community.

   Verse 41 says “those who accepted his message were baptized”. Is baptism required for salvation? No. “The Baptist Faith and Message” (online at www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfm2000.asp) describes baptism as an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith.

   What are the four activities to which the early church was devoted? Teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.

   Which of these activities are a priority for our church today? Could priority be:  1. Eating, 2. Visiting, 3. Prayer, 4. Teaching?  

 

Read Acts 2:43-47

   What does “fear came over everyone” mean? Could be fright, but here, as we have studied before, the meaning is reverence or respect.

   What are the “many wonders and signs” Luke refers to in verse 43? I plan to ask four class members to read: Acts 4:30, Acts 5:12, Acts 6:8, and Acts 15:12. Perhaps you read these yourself. The discussion should make the point that God was still doing miracles through the disciples and the people were seeing them performed.

   What does verse 44 not mean? The church members were not required to surrender all their personal property and live as part of a Christian commune.

   Then what does verse 44 really mean? Various individuals did give of their means generously and did host church meetings in their homes. The concept of the family of God and the importance of their shared mission as believers seem to have inspired a remarkable generosity in the church.

   What happens when believers are not united in purpose? Members can get sidetracked and lose sight of the church’s primary purpose. Personal agendas can overshadow reaching people for Christ.

   When and where does verse 46 say the believers met? Everyday, in the temple and in different houses.

   What is the importance of large group gatherings vs small group gatherings? Large groups can build fellowship and excitement through corporate worship.  Small groups enable people to become better acquainted and meet each other’s needs.

   Does God prefer the large group or small group meeting? Both, God is present wherever His people gather. Remember Matt. 18:20.

   What were the people doing in verse 47? Praising God and having favor with all the people.

   What was the Lord doing in verse 47? God’s blessing was evident. The church was growing with believers being added daily. 

 

Conclusion

   As Jesus’ followers, we should be connected and contributing to the health of a local group of believers. For us, we should not let ourselves be limited to our Sunday School Class.

   We should worship together and look for opportunities to assist other believers as they have needs.

   Close in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to show us how we can contribute to the unity and health of our church. Pray, too, for all the believers around the world who are studying Acts alongside us.