Friday, April 30, 2010

Acts 13:4-12

4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.
6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun."
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Questions to consider:

• How do Paul and his company make their initial contacts in each town?
• What do you do with obvious opportunities God gives you?
• What is your attitude toward telling others about Jesus?
• Have you ever been bold for Jesus in a difficult situation? What was the result?

Possibilities for prayer:

WHOA. This is one of those passages that seems a little bit (or a lot) confusing. Let’s take some time to ask God for discernment, to understand what this passage might mean in today’s context.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Acts 13:1-3

1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Questions to consider:

• Describe the church at Antioch. How similar is it to your own?
• Describe the part of God and the part of the church in sending out missionaries. Can you derive any principles regarding missionary call from this?

Possibilities for prayer:

Walking into the unknown for God can be a really nerve-wracking experience. The Elm City Vineyard community has had a lot of experience with sending people out into the world to continue proclaiming the Good News, and one way that we do that is just like the passage from today: we pray for them. Today, pray for those who have been called to do God’s work in places around the world, and ask for God’s protection and guidance for them as they step out into what is often a very uncertain space.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Acts 12: 20-25

20 He [Herod] had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king's country for their food supply.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a mere mortal." 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God continued to increase and spread.
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.

Questions to consider:

• How does this passage add to what you learned yesterday about angels?
• When you are in a position of leadership, how can you give God the glory? How important does God consider this?
• Even though God permits Herod to do much that is harmful, what is the final outcome concerning the word of God?
• Does God still rule the lives of authorities? Does this affect your prayers?

Possibilities for prayer:

It’s important to acknowledge the one who's ultimately responsible for the successes in our lives: God. Herod became very full of himself and definitely paid a steep price (can you imagine being eaten to death by worms?). Let’s take some time today to acknowledge God as the one responsible for the good things in our lives, for giving us the gifts, talents, and opportunities to get to where we are and to have become the people we are. It is good to give Him thanks and praise.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Acts 12:1-19

1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen."
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!"
15 "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this," he said, and then he left for another place.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

Questions to consider:

• What does Herod do to James and Peter? How does the church respond?
• What instructions does the angel give Peter? When does Peter know it’s not a dream?
• How does your view of angels compare with what is said here?
• Contrast the outcome of Herod’s persecution in the lives of James and Peter. Are death and deliverance equally acceptable to you? Were they for James and Peter?

Possibilities for prayer:

This passage seems to me a very clear demonstration of the power of prayer (notice how verse 5 talks about the church’s “earnest” prayer for Peter). God hears those prayers, and what is more, responds. Peter is supernaturally freed from imprisonment, and it would be hard to suggest that it’s not due at least in part to the prayers of the church. Today, be encouraged that prayer is powerful. Take some time to thank God for hearing your prayers and don’t be afraid to ask for something that might need some supernatural help to be accomplished. =)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Acts 11:19-30

19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the believers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Questions to consider:

• Describe the relationship between the churches at Antioch and Jerusalem. How do they naturally aid one another?
• How is our church related to other churches? In what ways does our church show love and concern for churches in other places?
• What specific things does Barnabas do and say to help the new Christians?
• What principles of Christian giving do we discover in today’s passage?

Possibilities for prayer:

The faith of the disciples in this book never ceases to amaze me. After Stephen was stoned to death for his faith, the believers are scattered, but in this they are able to tell even more people about the Good News. God takes something that should be tragic and make all the followers of Jesus fearful and changes it into something that brings more and more people into the Kingdom. Today, let’s pray that God would use difficult circumstances in our own lives to bring about greater good.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Acts 11:1-18

1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, "You went into the house of the uncircumcised and ate with them."
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.'
8 "I replied, 'Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'
9 "The voice spoke from heaven a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 "Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.'
15 "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God's way?"
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life."

Questions to consider:

• Who objects to Peter’s contact with the Gentiles? What does Peter do in response to
criticism? What do you do?
• How does the circumcision party respond to Peter’s patient explanation of what has
• What gift does God give the Jews as well as the Gentiles? Have you received this gift? How
do you know?
• Who motivates people to repent? How does this affect your prayers? What is the outcome
of repentance?
• Does today’s passage illuminate a way in which to handle contention that results in the
glorifying of God?

Possibilities for prayer:

Peter here recognizes his relative insignificance when faced with the decisions of God. When God tells him something, he accepts it instead of fighting back. In our own lives, we sometimes don’t like having to capitulate, even when it’s to the God of the universe. Ask that God would give you humility in responding to His call on your life, and that you would be at peace with the things He asks, knowing that they come from a loving and trustworthy God.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Acts 10:34-48

34 Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 "Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Questions to consider:

• How does Peter’s sermon differ from his other sermons in this book?
• How does God show his pleasure at the teachings of Peter and the faith of Cornelius?
• What additional command does Peter give?

Possibilities for prayer:

God chooses all of us, regardless of our age, race, height, eye color, or any other descriptive factor. In Peter’s time, there was a big rift between Jews and Gentiles, because the Gentiles were considered “unclean.” They thought that God (and Jesus) was only for them, the Jews, and not the Gentiles. But that’s not true. And we, the modern day Gentiles, should be awfully glad that it isn’t! Let’s take some time to thank God for the way He loves, regardless of anything else about us. Let’s praise Him for thinking us beautiful and worthy, for calling us His children.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Acts 10:1-33

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked.
The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea."
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
14 "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them."
21 Peter went down and said to the men, "I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?"
22 The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say." 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only human myself."
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?"
30 Cornelius answered: "Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us."

Questions to consider:

• To what extent does Cornelius believe in the revelation that God has given in the Old
• How, do you think, has Cornelius learned about the true God?
• Put yourself in Peter’s place: imagine some animal or creature that you hate to touch, let
alone eat. What are your thoughts, emotions, responses to such a vision?

Possibilities for prayer:

God sometimes challenges us to think outside the box. Peter had lived his life by the Jewish law, and was understandably rather confused when he received a vision suggesting that those things he had always considered to be “right” might not be so accurate anymore, that God was calling him into something new and challenging his preconceived notions. This challenging can be frightening and uncomfortable thing, but God knows what He’s doing. Today, try praying that God would show you what things outside the “normal” of your life that He might be asking of you, and that when those things are revealed, you would have the faith to pursue them, even if they seem scary or uncertain.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Acts 9:32-43

32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord's people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 "Aeneas," Peter said to him, "Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat." Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, "Please come at once!"
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, "Tabitha, get up." She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Questions to consider:

• Who heals the paralyzed man? What is the result?
• What are some of the good works and acts of love of Tabitha?
• What good works and acts of love will you today, and throughout this week?
• What evidences that Peter raises Tabitha to life by the power of God? What is the result?
• Has anyone ever believed in God after seeing His power in your life?

Possibilities for prayer:

This passage says a lot to me about prayer. Imagine if no one had taken the risk of going to get Peter, of having faith that something could be done for Dorcas! But through faith, Dorcas is healed, raised from the dead. Through this act, many others are brought to faith as well. Let’s take some time to pray that we would be acting out faith in our lives, and that those acts of faith would be inspirational, bringing others closer to God.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Acts 9:1-31

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" 
 "Yes, Lord," he answered.
11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."
13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

Questions to consider:

• Try to visualize the change in Saul. Maybe list his “before” and “after” characteristics.
• Under what circumstances has Jesus confronted you? How have you responded?
• How the events of verses 17-30 confirm and illustrate what God says to Ananias in verses
• How has your commitment to Christ involved you in suffering?
• To what extent does our church experience what the early church experienced in verse 31?

Possibilities for prayer:

Isn’t it crazy how God takes the most unlikely people and uses them for His great purposes? There didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about the disciples, but they went on to do great miracles in Jesus’s name. Saul was really out to see the disciples destroyed, but God has chosen him and nothing was going to stand in the way of that. And even though most of us (all of us?) are not out to kill followers of Jesus, there are often feelings of inadequacy that follow us around when we think about being used by God. Right now, take some time to rest in the fact that God loves you and has plans for you. Good plans. Ask God to give you peace and to help you realize that you are important to Him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Acts 8:26-40

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means "queen of the Ethiopians"). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.
31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: 
 "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, 
 and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, 
 so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. 
 Who can speak of his descendants? 
 For his life was taken from the earth."
34 The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36-37 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?" 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Questions to consider:

• What instructions does Philip receive from the angel?
• How has God already prepared the eunuch to receive the message of Christ? In what ways has God prepared you for His Good News?
• How does Philip initiate the conversation? When does he start talking about the Gospel?
• What is the last impression you have of the eunuch?
• Does this story influence the way you think about sharing the Good News with someone, maybe even today?

Possibilities for prayer:

God is really great about presenting us with opportunities to share the Good News with others, if we’re open to seeing them. Let’s pray that God would show us the people that He’s placed in our lives to be open with about faith, and that He’d give us the courage to be truly vulnerable and honest. If there are people in your life that you are already in conversation with about faith, pray that God would be speaking to them and softening their hearts, and that He would be continually giving you wisdom in how best to share with them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Acts 8:2-25

2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is rightly called the Great Power of God." 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19 and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."
20 Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."
24 Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."
25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Questions to consider:

• What causes the church to spread out to other regions?
• What do those who are scattered do?
• Why do you want the power of God in your life?
• How concerned are you about what other Christians in your group think about you? What are your reasons for being spiritual?

Possibilities for prayer:

Sometimes we say or do things that we shouldn’t. And sometimes those things are said or done simply because we’re human and we don’t always think things through properly, or because we’re confused, as Simon seems to have been. Let’s pray for forgiveness and reconciliation with those people who have been hurt by the carelessness or confusion of our words and deeds, whether they’ve caused God pain, or our friends and family. Ask God to give us courage to seek the forgiveness of those around us that we’ve hurt, and to help us to be more careful in the way we speak and interact.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Acts 7-8:1

1Then the high priest asked him, "Are these charges true?"
2To this he replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. 3'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.'

4"So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. 5He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. 6God spoke to him in this way: 'Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 7But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,' God said, 'and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.' 8Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.

9"Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt; so he made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.

11"Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our fathers could not find food. 12When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers on their first visit. 13On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph's family. 14After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. 15Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our fathers died. 16Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.

17"As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. 18Then another king, who knew nothing about Joseph, became ruler of Egypt. 19He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our forefathers by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.

20"At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father's house. 21When he was placed outside, Pharaoh's daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.

23"When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. 24He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. 25Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, 'Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?'
27"But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, 'Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?' 29When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.
30"After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to look more closely, he heard the Lord's voice: 32'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

33"Then the Lord said to him, 'Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.'
35"This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, 'Who made you ruler and judge?' He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert.

37"This is that Moses who told the Israelites, 'God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.' 38He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us.
39"But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40They told Aaron, 'Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don't know what has happened to him!' 41That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. 42But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: 
 " 'Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings 
 forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? 

43You have lifted up the shrine of Molech 

and the star of your god Rephan, 

the idols you made to worship. 

Therefore I will send you into exile' beyond Babylon.

44"Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46who enjoyed God's favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.47But it was Solomon who built the house for him.

48"However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: 

49" 'Heaven is my throne, 

and the earth is my footstool. 

What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. 

Or where will my resting place be? 

50Has not my hand made all these things?'

51"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."

54When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56"Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

57At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

Questions to consider:

• How does Stephen identify with the council?
• Is this an appropriate time for a history lesson?
• Summarize the interplay of God’s speech and actions. Are the actions alone sufficient?
• How does history repeat itself in this chapter? In what situations are you resisting God’s
purposes for you?

Possibilities for prayer:

One of the common themes in the various stories that Stephen relates is the fact that God sends someone or something to aid the people, but they are blind to it. Even Stephen himself looks up into the sky and sees Jesus standing near God, but the priests cover their ears and yell loudly to block this revelation out. Today, let’s pray that our eyes and ears would be opened to the things that God is trying to show us. Let’s ask that anything keeping us from seeing God would be removed, and that we would resemble these people of faith more than those who were oblivious to God’s signs and signals.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Acts 6

1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."
5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
8Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
11Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God."
12So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us."
15All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Questions to consider:

• What growing pains does the early church experience?
• What is your attitude toward routine service?
• Describe the attitude of the twelve toward priorities in their lives.
• To what does God want you to give priority in your life?
• What are the practical results in Jerusalem after the church makes a division of labor?
• After the problem within the church is settled, what problem does the church now face
from outside?
• What evidences God’s presence with Stephen?
• Have you ever been in a situation similar to Stephen’s? What have you done?

Possibilities for prayer:

Even the early church, which had members who had been able to talk to and interact with Jesus in the flesh, had some of its own problems. But reliance upon the Holy Spirit leads to the development of a successful plan, that allows the Good News to spread even farther. Let’s pray that we would be able to identify the places and tasks to which we are best suited within the church, asking for humility and wisdom in assessing these, so that as a community we can come together and meet the needs of all who are a part.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Acts 5:13-42

13No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
17Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20"Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life."
21At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23"We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside." 24On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.
25Then someone came and said, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people." 26At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28"We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
29Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! 30The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."
33When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
40His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

Questions to consider:

• What happens after the church is filled with fear?
• Why do the Sadducees oppose what God is doing through the apostles? Have you ever
opposed what God is doing through others for this reason?
• How are the disciples let out of prison? For what reason? When do they start to obey the
angel’s command?
• What is significant about the place where they teach?
• What in Peter’s bold words enrages the Jewish council?
• How do the apostles respond to their beating? How do you respond to trying times in your

Possibilities for prayer:

The disciples are constantly facing challenge and persecution as they share the good news of Jesus. It’s pretty inspiring that these men, after being severely beaten, rejoice in that suffering. Finding the strength to rejoice in suffering can be a truly difficult thing. Today, pray that God would give you the strength to rejoice in suffering, and the faith to persist in pursuing Him despite hardship.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Acts 5:1-12

1Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
3Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."
5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?" 
 "Yes," she said, "that is the price."
9Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."
10At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
12The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade.

Questions to consider:

• Precisely what is the lie that Ananias and Sapphira agree to tell the apostles?
• What do verses 3-4 tell us about the Holy Spirit? Do you think of the Holy Spirit in this
• What is God’s reaction to sin in the church? What happens to Ananias and Sapphira?
• What does this incident teach you about God?
• In what ways are you holding back from God?
• Have you been completely honest with people in the past week? Have you been completely
honest with God?

Possibilities for prayer:

One thing that can be challenging is being honest with the people around us about some of the hard stuff that is going on in our lives. But honesty is important, both with the people around us and with God. Pray that God would place in your life people with whom you can be genuine and honest, and to give you the courage to share openly about your life--the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Acts 4:32-37

32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

Questions to consider:

• How do you feel about your possessions?
• In what ways is the filling of the Holy Spirit from Tuesday’s passage (v.31) manifest in
today’s passage?
• Why are those who believe in no need?
• Describe the profound change in the disciples’ mode of living.
• What is different about your life because you are a part of a church community?

Possibilities for prayer:

Once again we are presented with a vision of community that is probably unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lives. Today, pray that God would be making us into a community that can be focused upon spreading the Good News of Jesus because of the sense of generosity that exists among us.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Acts 4:13-31

13When 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. 14But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16"What are we going to do with these men?" they asked. "Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name."
18Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."
21After 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. 22For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
23On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25You 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?
26The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One. 27Indeed 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. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
31After 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.

Questions to consider:

• Why do the men of the council say nothing publicly in opposition to Peter and John? Why
are they concerned about them?
• If you were in this situation, how would you respond?
• List the different parts of the disciples’ prayer. What is significant about its order?
• Describe the God in whom the disciples believe as revealed by their prayer.
• How does God answer their prayer?
• Do you usually pray for deliverance from difficult circumstances or for boldness in them?
Does this passage challenge the way you usually respond?

Possibilities for prayer:

Sometimes we are faced with situations that are frightening or uncomfortable. It’s often our natural response to ask God to remove us from the trying situation--who really wants to be uncomfortable? But today let’s try to imitate the example that Peter and John set in this passage. Instead of asking God to take away the hard stuff, let’s ask Him to walk with us through it, and to have the courage and boldness necessary to face it with His Spirit.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Acts 4:1-12

1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
5The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest's family. 7They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?"
8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! 9If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10then 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. 11He is 
 " 'the stone you builders rejected, 
 which has become the capstone.12Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

Questions to consider:

• Why do the priests and the Sadducees arrest Peter and John?
• What question do the Jewish leaders ask them? How does Peter answer it?
• Why does it require Spirit-given boldness to say each of the things about Jesus that Peter
• Has God ever put you in a difficult situation and filled you with his Spirit in order to
handle it? What happened?

Possibilities for prayer:

It does require a lot of boldness to say the things that Peter says to the priests and Sadducees. While there generally aren’t priests and Sadducees that we have to face in our own daily lives, there are definitely situations that arise that require Spirit-given boldness in order to handle them. Pray today that you would be continually filled with boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit, to deal with any trials that come your way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Acts 3:11-26

11 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. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: "People of Israel, 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? 13 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. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 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.
17 "Now, brothers and sisters, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 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. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.'
24 "Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 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.' 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."

Questions to consider:

• What does Peter say about Jesus? Of what does Peter accuse the crowd?
• As you share about being a follower of Jesus, how can you make the message appropriate and meaningful to your audience?
• In verse 25, what does Peter say about the extent of God’s gracious purposes? In what ways have you experienced these blessings?

Possibilities for prayer:

When crazy good things happen, people’s attention is naturally drawn. But Peter and John are quick to give credit where credit is due: to God. As we’re praying that God would make us a community where miracles happen, let’s also ask that God make us a community where miracles are the norm. Let’s be a place that’s not surprised when someone is healed, because the power of God is so evident that it simply makes sense that this is the case. Also pray that God keeps our hearts humble, and that we recognize that it is only through Him that such mighty works can be accomplished, just as Peter and John did in this passage.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Acts 3:1-10

1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 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. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6 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." 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 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.

Questions to consider:

• How do Peter and John show their love to God and to others on this day?
• Contrast what the lame man expects with what he receives.
• What has God given you that you can share today with people in need?

Possibilities for prayer:

Imagine what would happen if people came into our church with all sorts of impairments—physical, spiritual, emotional—and came out healed from them! We’ve already seen some examples of the Holy Spirit’s power like this within our community, but it never hurts to ask for more. Let’s pray that God would be creating in our community a place where people come and are healed of all sorts of things, that our prayers and declarations would be genuine and filled with the Holy Spirit’s power, and that people would leave proclaiming the Good News, singing praises to God for His might and compassion.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Acts 2:37-47

Acts 2: 37-47

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every 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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Questions to consider:

• How do people respond to Peter’s address? Have you ever responded in this way? When? For what reason?
• List the aspects or manifestations of the new life of those who receive Peter’s word. Do any of these aspects characterize you?

Possibilities for prayer:

This passage gives us an inside look at what the early church community looked like—and it’s something beautiful and yet somehow intimidating to many as well. Let’s pray that God would give us the courage to push into making our community look more and more like this passage from Acts, and that He would be guiding us in how to actually make that happen.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Acts 2:14-36

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 " 'In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
22 "People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
" 'I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.'
29 "Brothers and sisters, we all know that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
" 'The Lord said to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet." '
36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."

Questions to Consider:

• How does Peter answer the charge that the disciples are drunk?
• Does this inform what you might do if people misunderstand your life as a follower of Jesus?
• What difference does the risen, ascended, active Christ make in your daily life?

Possibilities for prayer:

Peter breaks down pretty clearly who Jesus was and what He did while on earth. Pray that God would each day be giving you a clearer understanding of who Jesus is and how you can be actively seeking Him in your everyday life.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Acts 2:1-13

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."

Questions to consider:

• In what ways is Jesus’s promise (from Monday) fulfilled in this passage?
• How does the Holy Spirit empower these people to become witnesses to the whole world at this time?
• What is the disciples’ message?
• How can you find power to be effective at sharing your story as a follower of Christ?

Possibilities for prayer:

The Holy Spirit’s power is a pretty amazing thing, though sometimes it’s easy to forget that God is still moving in our world when we see the hurt and pain around us and in our own lives as well. Pray that God would increase the Spirit’s presence in you, and that you would be filled with that power. Pray that God would give you increased faith and eyes to see the things that He is still doing—in our community, in our city, and around the world.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Acts 1:12-26

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, "Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry."
18 (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
20 "For," said Peter, "it is written in the Book of Psalms:
" 'May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,'
" 'May another take his place of leadership.'
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."
23 So they proposed the names of two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Questions to Consider:

• How do Jesus’s disciples spend their time after Jesus leaves them?
• How do scripture, prayer, and providence (the lots) play in the new selection?
• With which of these things do the disciples begin when they want to discern God’s will?
• What might this say about the way in which you make your own decisions?

Possibilities for prayer:

It seems like there’s always something in our lives that requires a decision. As you go through this day (or week) in particular, try to make an extra effort to hand those decisions, big and small, over to God. Pray for Him to show you the direction to take, and trust that He will.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Acts 1:1-11

1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But 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."
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

Questions to consider:

• How does Jesus spend His time on earth after he rises from the dead?
• What are His plans for the disciples? What concerns them? How does Jesus answer their question?
• What divine resource has God provided for you (and for the disciples)?
• Are you aware of any way the Holy Spirit has empowered you recently to share your story of being a follower of Jesus?

Possibilities for prayer:

Ask that God would make the presence of the Holy Spirit more real in your life. Try taking some time to be quiet and listen to what God might be saying to you through His Spirit. Doing this in community is a great way to workshop listening to God’s voice.

Acts of the Apostles

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Luke 24

1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " 8 Then they remembered his words.
9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
19 "What things?" he asked.
"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
25 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Points of Interest:

• ‘very early in the morning’—they go to visit the body as soon as is practical after the Sabbath ends. They’re bringing embalming spices to slow the decay of the body and hide the smell; but Jesus isn’t even dead long enough for them to do the embalming. It somehow seems fitting to me that, with one of the primary complaints against Jesus and his followers being Sabbath-breaking, these women miss their window to anoint Jesus’ body because they are observing the Sabbath.

• ‘suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them’—when Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah on the mountain, Jesus’ clothes ‘became as a bright as a flash of lightning’ (9:29), just like the clothes of these two men do now. I assume the two men are angels, because they’re fulfilling the usual angelic role of passing along an important message from God, like Gabriel did in chapter 1 (1:11,26). Then again, it might be Moses and Elijah again—or Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob or some other long-dead person. After all, what they’re testifying to is life after death. The prayer meeting on the mountain and this heavenly encounter at the empty tomb serve as bookends for Jesus’ experience in Jerusalem. In his prayer time on the mountain, Jesus talked with two resurrected people about his own impending departure from the world (9:31). Here, the women talk with two heavenly or resurrected men about the fact that Jesus has indeed risen.

• ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’—As Jesus told the Sadducees, ‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living’ (20:38). God is certainly Jesus’ God; therefore, Jesus is alive.

• ‘Then they remembered his words’—again and again, Jesus has told his followers these things, but they haven’t been able to understand. Finally, this thing that’s remained a mystery is unveiled: ‘No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in may see the light’ (8:16).

• ‘the Eleven’—Judas, of course, is no longer counted with the apostles.

• ‘Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James’—these are some of the same women who have been traveling with Jesus since chapter 8 (8:2-3). Luke mentions their names to show that he is relying on the eyewitness testimony of specific people, not on rumor, hearsay, or anonymous tips. The testimony of women was considered less reliable than that of men (IVP Bible Background Commentary 256); nonetheless, Jesus gives the first news of his resurrection to these faithful women who have been following him and who have come to do honor to his body.

• ‘their words seemed to them like nonsense’—the women were able to hear the words and have them bear fruit, but the men are still somewhat poor soil (8:12).

• ‘Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb’—Peter doesn’t quite believe the women, but he takes what they say seriously. He moves from unbelief to curiosity, which is a good step. If he sticks with it, his perseverance will eventually pay off (8:15).

• ‘it is the third day since all this took place’—they’re practically repeating Jesus’ own words, about being rejected by the chief priests, being crucified, and rising on the third day; but they don’t put it all together.

• ‘and then enter his glory?’—Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, which so vividly portray Jesus’ suffering, don’t stop there. They go on to describe the sufferer’s glorious future even after death. Psalm 22 starts with, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ but it ends with,
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it! (Psalm 22:30-31).
And Isaiah 53 says,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied . . . (Isaiah 53:10-11).
What his followers thought of as Jesus’ tragic end is only his glorious beginning.

• ‘Jesus continued on as if he were going farther’—Jesus waits to see if they are interested in hearing more. When they invite him to eat with them, he accepts, just like he commanded them to do when they went to the villages to share his good news (10:8).

• ‘Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him’—the broken bread, the symbol of his broken body, finally cures them of their blindness to who he is.

• ‘Peace be with you’—I think this would be a standard greeting, but it’s particularly meaningful here. He knows that seeing someone they think is dead all of a sudden pop up in the middle of them might be a bit scary. The first thing he wants them to know is that they have no reason to be afraid; he has good intentions toward them.

• ‘they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement’—they go from overwhelmingly scared to overwhelmingly happy.

• ‘he took it and ate it in their presence’—I think eating the fish both proves that he’s not a ghost and brings some normality to the situation.

• ‘he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’—Jesus walks his followers through some of the very passages we’ve been looking at the past few days, opening their eyes to the fact that what looked terribly wrong was actually going exactly according to the script.

• ‘forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations’—Jesus isn’t just the sin doctor for a few people in a room, or even just for one nation. He has the power and the desire to cure the whole world of sin. Isaiah speaks of this as well:
And now the Lord says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength—
he says:
‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will make you a light for the Gentiles,
That my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6)
Jesus is indeed Israel’s Messiah, just as Mary and Zechariah foresaw at the beginning of our story (1:54-55, 68-69). But he is so much more than that: he’s a Savior for the whole world.

• ‘beginning at Jerusalem’—this rescue from sin is even available to Jerusalem, the city that killed him. In fact, Jerusalem will get the offer before anyone else.

• ‘I am going to send you what my Father has promised’—that would be the Holy Spirit: ‘how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’ (6:13). Before Jesus began his work, the Father sent him the Holy Spirit. Jesus is now sending his followers out to continue his work: the work of healing the sick, of casting out demons, of bringing forgiveness, or freeing people who are bound up, and of spreading good news. To do these things, they will need the same source of power Jesus relied on.
For some reason, Jesus’ command here not to leave until they’ve been equipped with heavenly power reminds me of his cryptic saying at the Passover supper about taking their purses, bags, and swords (22:36). Perhaps Jesus didn’t mean those things literally, but as a sort of parable about the Holy Spirit: they don’t want to find themselves naked or unprepared in the task he now has for them.

• ‘he left them and was taken up into heaven’—just like in the story where the servants are given the money to invest (19:11-27), Jesus goes away to get real royal power for himself. His followers are left behind to put what he’s given them to work, until he returns.

Taking it home:

For you and your family: Just as you prayed for a greater understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death yesterday, ask God to give you a deeper appreciation of the significance of his resurrection today. Ask God to fill you today with wonder and praise.

For your friends: Ask Jesus to show himself to your friends. Ask him to give them whatever explanation or demonstration they need to believe in his death and his resurrection.

For our city: Pray for God’s forgiveness and his salvation to be poured out on our city. That’s what Jesus came for.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Luke 23: 26-56

26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' 30 Then
" 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!"
and to the hills, "Cover us!"'
31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is God's Messiah, the Chosen One."
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
43 Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man." 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Points of Interest:

• ‘made him carry it behind Jesus’—Simon of Cyrene serves as a very vivid picture of Jesus’ call to his followers: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’ (9:23). Unfortunately, it’s a complete stranger who unwittingly and unwillingly provides this image. None of Jesus’ actual followers are anywhere to be seen. Simon Peter, who just last night talked of dying with Jesus, has run away; so Simon of Cyrene has to temporarily fill in for him. Cyrene, by the way, is in North Africa, in modern Libya (IVP Bible Background Commentary 254).

• ‘including women who mourned and wailed for him’—it’s not quite true that all of Jesus’ followers have abandoned him. The men among the disciples are hiding, but the women continue to follow him to the very end.

• ‘what will happen when it is dry?’—another reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. Even on the day of his death, Jesus is more concerned for the citizens of Jerusalem than he is for himself. I think the point of Jesus’ image is if, during relatively prosperous times, people can so quickly turn on him and kill him, imagine what they will do to one another when times get rough. Indeed, during the Roman siege of 70 AD, much of the damage was caused by fighting among Jewish factions (IVP Bible Background Commentary 248).

• ‘Father, forgive them’—Jesus continues to follow his own advice from the sermon on the plain: ‘bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’ (6:28), and, ‘Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned’ (6:37). To the very end, Jesus is giving generously to others, particularly to those who won’t or can’t give anything in return. Jesus is aiming at greatness. He’s living in such a way as to get the best possible rewards from God: ‘For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’ (6:38).

• ‘they divided up his clothes by casting lots’—it was common practice for the executioners to get the personal effects of the prisoner (New Bible Commentary 1017), but this is also a reference to Psalm 22. Psalm 22 (written by David, about 1,000 years before Jesus) bears some striking resemblances to Jesus’ crucifixion, including this division of clothes by lot, the sufferer’s great thirst, piercing of hands and feet, and being the object of mockery:
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
‘He trusts in the Lord, they say,
‘Let the Lord rescue him’ (Psalm 22:7-8).

• ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS’—the charge against Jesus is ironically accurate. He’s being killed because he is the true king of the Jews, not because he falsely claims to be the king of the Jews. He is the son of the owner of the vineyard, being killed so that the tenants can take the vineyard as their own (20:14-15).

• ‘Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’—this criminal is pointing Jesus in the wrong direction: ‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it’ (9:24). Jesus is saving himself—and them—by submitting to death. When he first started on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus warned:
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (12:4-7).
This criminal is afraid for his body, but shows no concern at all for his soul. Jesus, on the other hand, is showing respect for—and trust in—the one who has the authority to throw him into hell but the desire to save his life; as he prayed in Thursday’s passage, ‘yet not my will, but yours be done’ (22:42)

• ‘since you are under the same sentence?’—the moment before you die is not a great time to rack up new complaints against you.

• ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’—this second criminal reminds me of Jesus’ story of the tax collector who humbly asks for mercy and gets it (18:13-14). Criminal though he is—and as far as we know a complete stranger to Jesus—he is the only person we’ve encountered who believes that this is not the end for Jesus. Even as Jesus hangs on a cross next to him, this criminal believes that Jesus will survive and triumph.

• ‘the curtain of the temple was torn in two’—the curtain is the divider between the Holy Place (the priestly area of the temple) and the Most Holy Place (where only the chief priests could go, and only once a year). Perhaps this is the symbolic beginning of the destruction of the temple.

• ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’—this is the first line of Psalm 31:5, which continues, ‘redeem me, Lord, my faithful God.’ This is not some vague statement of trust. Jesus is truly handing his spirit over to God in a quite real and immediate way. Jesus, the very son of God, the Lord of God’s kingdom, the one who cast out demons, healed diseases, forgave sins, calmed seas, and even raised the dead, is now dead. He’s a completely helpless corpse. And his last words before dying are, ‘Father, I’m putting myself in your hands, and I’m trusting you to bring me back.’
Jesus is pushing to the utter limit the principle that it is always a good idea to be generous to others. He recommended to the rich ruler that he give all of his possessions to the poor to gain treasure in heaven (18:22). Jesus himself takes it a few steps further, giving his very life. This choice takes tremendous faith in God’s goodness and his power. Jesus is sacrificing himself to an incredible degree for the sake of others, but he’s not expecting that others will gain at his expense; even he can’t afford to do that when the price tag is his life. Jesus is trusting God to make this sacrifice worthwhile to him. Even in giving his life, Jesus depends on God to out give him: ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life’ (18:29-30)

• ‘a member of the Council’—apparently, not all the council members are Jesus’ enemies. Maybe the leaders of the council left any dissenters out of their deliberations, or maybe Joseph and any other members sympathetic to Jesus were simply shouted down.

• ‘placed it in a tomb cut in the rock’—the fact that Jesus’ body is placed in a tomb bought by this influential councilman brings to mind an odd little detail in one of Isaiah’s prophecies of the suffering servant: ‘He was assigned a grave with the wicked,/and with the rich in his death’ (Isaiah 53:9). Like Isaiah’s suffering servant, Jesus dies the death of a criminal (and would have simply been buried in a public burial ground with them except for Joseph’s intervention [New Bible Commentary 1018]) but is buried in a rich man’s grave. Even more than Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 (written about 800 years before Jesus) is startling in how accurately and vividly it portrays Jesus’ suffering—it might be worth finding a Bible and reading the entire chapter. Isaiah’s prophecy also offers what to me is the clearest (yet still fairly mysterious) explanation of why Jesus had to suffer in all of the Old Testament, maybe in all of the Bible:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5)
All the way back in chapter 5 (5:31), Jesus declared himself to be a sin-doctor. He had come to the world specifically to heal people of their sin-sickness. Now, we see his method of healing. He somehow takes on himself the pain, the suffering, and the punishment for our sins. In effect, he kills off sin by having it die with him on the cross. It’s as if he undergoes sin-chemotherapy, but for all of us, not for himself. And by God’s great and mysterious power, this crazy plan works.

Taking it home:

For you and your family: Jesus’ death is undeniably a very powerful story, but it’s also one that can be very difficult to grasp. Pray that God would give you a new understanding today of the meaning of Jesus’ death.

For your friends: Pray that like Simon of Cyrene your friends would be drawn into Jesus’ story in surprising ways.

For our city: While their companions are sneering, the second criminal and the centurion find in Jesus’ death something compelling and faith-inspiring. Pray that many people in our city would also gain a new appreciation for Jesus during these few days when there tends to be greater focus on him and his death. Pray that they would not be deterred by any cynicism about Jesus they see around them.