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Recap of Chapter 28

What could turn a group of gutless deserters into courageous, outspoken evangelists willing to be imprisoned and even die for their cause?  They had witnessed the resurrected Christ. He had proved Himself alive for forty days to various people in a variety of circumstances and places.  Just before His ascension, Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promised power of the Holy Spirit so that they could be witnesses to His resurrection in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Ten days later on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit stormed in like tongues of fire.  He empowered each disciple to declare the gospel.  Peter became the first mega-church preacher and that day three thousand new believers were baptized.  This new community of believers embraced teaching and fellowship and enjoyed the favor of nearly all the people.  All but the powerful Jewish rulers, that is.

The new church continued to grow rapidly.  The apostles were even able to perform miracles similar to those Jesus had done!  As the apostles spread the word of the resurrection in Jerusalem, they incited outrage and opposition from the Jewish rulers.  Peter refused to be silenced and continued to speak in spite of orders to stop.  Even a severe flogging could not curb his zealous proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah. Stephen’s scathing sermon before the Sanhedrin showed how the Jews had repeatedly rejected God’s prophets and resisted God’s Spirit.  The Sanhedrin dragged him outside of Jerusalem to stone him.  He saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God and entrusted himself to the Lord.

Sparked by the martyring of Stephen, persecution drove Christians like Philip out of Jerusalem and into outlying areas like Samaria. While the opposition grew, so did the spread of the gospel message.  A Pharisee named Saul made it his personal mission to defeat this movement once and for all, but his blinding come-to-Jesus moment on the road to Damascus really “opened his eyes.”  Meanwhile, God prepared Ananias to deliver God’s marching orders to Saul: he had a mission to be God’s witness to the Gentiles.  As Ananias laid his hands upon him, Saul’s sight was restored, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Within a few short days, this persecutor of Christ became a preacher of Christ.  Needless to say, his turnaround was met with suspicion and doubt, but trusted Barnabas vouched for him to the apostles in Jerusalem.  Saul soon found himself on the receiving end of death threats, so he too was sent away from Jerusalem.  The church spread throughout Judea and Samaria as God used even persecution to achieve His Upper Story purpose of spreading the news that Jesus is the risen Messiah.

God’s next move was so radical that He had to prepare both Peter and Cornelius for this new revelation.  While an angel told Roman centurion Cornelius to send for Peter, Peter was given a vision of unclean animals on a sheet. A heavenly voice instructed him to eat this meat that was definitely not kosher. What Peter called impure, God now called clean.  As Peter was trying to interpret the meaning of this vision, Cornelius’ servants arrived and summoned him to their master’s home.  When he explained the gospel to a full house, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these Gentiles too!  The Holy Spirit was now available to all who believed!  Peter now knew his vision was not about food but about God’s plan to declare all people “kosher” who would believe in Christ. Peter’s ministry continued in Jerusalem where Herod Agrippa’s persecution grew deadly.  Peter was imprisoned but even prison bars could not stop God’s plan.  As his friends earnestly prayed for him, an angel miraculously freed him.  Kings, rulers and prison guards all found themselves fighting against God and helpless to stop His plan.  While the Lower Story of persecution drove believers away from Jerusalem, the Upper Story of resurrection drove many to God.  He alone can redeem even the worst of circumstances.  After all, He alone is the God who raised the dead!

Chapter 28: New Beginnings 

The first lesson focuses on discovering more about God the Holy Spirit.  While it is not the intent of this lesson to provide a thoroughly inclusive study of the Holy Spirit, it is the goal to broadly survey the Holy Spirit in a comprehensive way.

The Trinity is rarely taught any more.  Most of us assume that all Christians have a firm grasp on the unique Triune God that we worship and serve.  However, few actually do.  And why would they?  This is one of the most crucial doctrines of the Christian faith and it is rarely taught.  Mature believers tend to assume that everyone understands the concept of the Trinity.  But unless we as teachers make an effort to explicitly do so, we are neglecting our flocks by failing to provide solid teaching that helps our learners know the God who has revealed Himself as three persons but one essence.  Perhaps we shy away from doing so because of our own inability to put a concept so profoundly mysterious into language that we know will be inadequate.  Yet, it is the Trinitarian God who sets Christianity apart from all other forms of religion.  It is the Trinitarian God who is the target of heretical, pseudo-Christian cults.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door yesterday.  Their Watch Tower publication states, “…God’s Holy Spirit is not a God, not a member of a trinity, not coequal, and is not even a person…It is God’s active force…”[1]  It is the goal of lesson option one to focus on the Person of the Trinity that seems the most distant but is in fact the most near to us.


[1] The Watch Tower, July 15, 1957, 432-433, cited by Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (rev. ed., Minneapolis:  Bethany, 1997) 102.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

I.       Who is the Holy Spirit?

A. Many Christians find the Holy Spirit to be confusing, elusive or even distant.  We are much more comfortable with the familial terms of “Father” and “Son.”  The term “Spirit” does not seem very personal, familiar or uniquely identifiable.  The Holy Spirit is mentioned infrequently in the Old Testament, is spoken of occasionally in the gospels, but takes center stage in Acts and this chapter of The Story.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit marks a revolutionary change in God’s historical plan of redemption.  It is therefore crucial that we gain the best understanding possible of this change, diligently strive to know the Holy Spirit as He is revealed in the Scriptures and embrace Him as the One through whom we draw near to Jesus.

B. The Holy Spirit is God.

  1. Our relationship with God is through the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, how we perceive the Holy Spirit will directly impact how we relate to Him and how we understand our religious experiences.
  2. Our study of the Old Testament makes very clear that no thing should be worshiped, for that is idolatry.  God is jealous and He alone is to be worshiped.  So to worship the Holy Spirit, if He is not God, would be idolatry.  To fail to worship the Holy Spirit if He is God would rob Him of the adoration, love and surrender that He is rightly due.
  3. The Holy Spirit is closely associated to both the Father and to the Son.  He is called the “Spirit of the Father” (Matt. 10:20).  He is called the “Spirit of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:11) and the “Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7).  He must be divine to be so closely associated to the Father and the Son.
  4. The Holy Spirit has divine attributes.  He does what God does.  He participated in creation (Gen. 1:2).  He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8-11).  He is the one who reveals the word of God and inspires the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

C. The Holy Spirit is a distinct person, an equal person of the Godhead.

  1. Yet the Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son.  However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.  But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Rom. 8:9)  He is the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11), so He is distinctly not Jesus, and He dwells in believers.

  2. The Great Commission gives the instruction to baptize in “the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).  These three are associated with the divine Name.

  3. The Spirit knows the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10-14).  He has intelligence that is His own.  And it does not possess intelligence — a personal being does.

II.       Who is the Holy Spirit to the Church?

A. This chapter emphasizes the birth of the church and the role of the Holy Spirit.  The two are intimately connected.
B. The Holy Spirit reveals the mystery of the Church.  Prior to Pentecost, Israel had been the primary community of faith through whom God worked to reach the world with His message of redemption.  After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit marked both believing Israelites and Gentiles as “one new man” (Eph. 2-3), Jews and Gentiles as one Body, the Church, with Christ as the head (Eph. 5:23-32).
C. The Holy Spirit works to form the community of faith.  The Church is God’s idea and God’s work.  As we see in this chapter of The Story, no man can conjure up the Spirit at will.  God does all the work, even if He graciously allows the Apostles to participate in His work.
D. The Holy Spirit indwells the community of the Church in a special way.  Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16).  The Greek “you” here is plural.  There is one body and one Spirit (Eph. 4:4)
E. The Spirit turns the hearts of believers toward one another in love.  The baby Church is marked by love, compassion and generosity because of the work of the Spirit.  The Church is called to “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Eph. 4:3).
F. Although men and women received the gospel as individuals, Paul always wrote to the Church as a whole community.  This community is an organic, vibrant and living Body (1 Cor. 12-14).  First Corinthians 12-14 was written to correct the Corinthian church because they were more concerned about outdoing one another than they were about preserving unity in the Body.  The spiritual gifts that come from the Holy Spirit are for “the common good.”  (1 Cor. 12:7, Eph. 4:12)  They are not meant for personal aggrandizement, but for the equipping of the saints for service.  The good of the Church as a community should never be eclipsed by an individual’s expression or exercise of a gift.

G. The Church is now the primary community through whom God works to reach the world with the message of redemption found in Christ Jesus and is uniquely empowered through the Spirit to disciple the saved to maturity  (Eph. 4:1-16).

III.       Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

A. He is the Indwelling One.  Many of us remember our lives before we came to Christ, before our spiritual births.  When we were empty and found ourselves drawn to Christ, placed our faith in Him and experienced a new and fresh infusion of the Lord’s presence in our lives, it was the work of the Holy Spirit. The activities of the Spirit touch us directly.  The indwelling Spirit is not to be confused with our own spirit, but nevertheless, He lives and works within us.

  1. It is through the Spirit that we are born again (Jn. 3:5).  This chapter of The Story from the book of Acts shows the saving work of the Spirit on the various groups of people as they came to faith in Christ.
  2. Prior to Pentecost, the Spirit’s presence came upon believers temporarily.  We studied young king David who was anointed with the Spirit.  Judge Samson was anointed with the Spirit and then it left him without him even noticing.  The Spirit was upon John the Baptist.  The Spirit came and went rather than abided with the believers.  This Indwelling Spirit was a major transition in the program of God.
  3. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you (Rom. 8:11).
  4. The anointing you receive from Christ abides in you and teaches you and is true (1 Jn. 2:27).

B.     He is the Sanctifying One.  While we are justified before God by faith in the finished work of Christ, the Spirit works to transform us.  He convicts us of sin and helps us to be holy which we can never be without Him.

  1.  If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body you will live (Rom. 8:13).
  2. The Spirit leads all who are sons of God (Rom. 8:14) through Whom we are adopted as sons (Rom. 8:15) and Who assures us of our sonship (Rom. 8:16).
  3. The Spirit is the one who transforms us from the inside out into the likeness of Christ. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we , with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
  4. He is the one who teaches us (1 Cor. 2:10-13, Jn. 14:26).  He illumines the Scriptures so that we can understand them.  He reveals the deeper truths of God.  He guides, speaks, testifies and convicts.  He tells what He hears.  These are things that only a personal agent can do.
  5. Submitting to the Spirit will prevent us from carrying out the desire of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-21).
  6. The Spirit produces fruit in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:22) so that we may exhibit Christ-like qualities and attributes.

C. He is the Helper. On the eve of His crucifixion, in Jn. 14:16, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”  Jesus went on to say, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  For those of us who wish we would have experienced the earthly ministry of Jesus, we should take notice that Jesus said we actually have it better than those who experienced His ministry then.  The Holy Spirit is a distinct advantage to us!

  1. The Greek words for “another comforter” are allos paracleton.  Jesus is also a paracletos (1 Jn. 2:1).  The paraclete had various meanings to the Greeks.  In its most literal sense, it means “one who comes along side.”  In the ancient world, it had a legal sense in which a paraclete would plead a person’s case in a court of law.  Some Bible versions use the word Advocate rather than Helper to convey this meaning.  While the judge in a courtroom sits, the Advocate stands.  Remember the stoning of Stephen?  While the earthly Sanhedrin judged him and sentenced him to death, Jesus his Advocate stood at the right hand of God in heaven to plead his case.
  2. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Helper too.  He helps us in our weaknesses to pray for us before the Father.  Likewise the Spirit helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  (Rom. 8:26-27).
  3. He is our Helper and Advocate before the world.  But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak.  But whatever is given you at that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speaks, but the Holy Spirit.  (Mark 13:11). 
  4. Another sense of the word paraclete is one of comfort.  He is our Comforter.  We take comfort knowing He is called alongside us through whatever trial we may face.  Certainly the Holy Spirit provides tender mercy for God’s people in their times of grief and pain.  His comfort consoles the brokenhearted.
  5. The paraclete is the one who gives strength in times of battle.  In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  (Rom. 8:37)  He is the One through Whom we receive great power (Acts 1:8)!  Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,” (Eph. 3:16).

IV.       Applications and Implications:

A. God desires to be known as He revealed Himself through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is therefore worthy of my worship, love, and obedience.
B. The Holy Spirit personally indwells me, empowering me to stand firm in battles against sin.
C. The Holy Spirit is to be obeyed.  I am to walk in Him so that I bear fruit in my life.
D. The Holy Spirit transforms me from the inside out.  It is His work, not my own.  But we don’t treat grace lightly.
E. The Holy Spirit indwells the Church in unique ways.  I am not to be disconnected from the community of faith.  I am to be part of the living, vibrant Body called the Church.  I will be missing a vital part of God’s best for me if I neglect the community of the Spirit.
F. I can rest knowing that the Spirit knows how to pray for me when I do not know how to pray.
G. The Holy Spirit will bring comfort and peace to me in a supernatural way when I am grieving and in pain.
H. It is through the Spirit that I have been reborn, renewed and made holy.  Praise Him!
I. It is better for me that Jesus is not here now because He sent the Spirit.

J. The Spirit assures me that I belong to God, that I have been adopted by Him.  When I doubt, the Spirit gives assurance.

Chapter 28: Mary, John Mark’s Mother

Safe House: 

Acts 12:12-17, 1 Peter 3—4

It’s that time once again this week to get your Bible’s open and take a look at what God has for us today. We take a look today at the early church and what helped them thrive as a community of faith.

Though it was not a safe time to be a Christian, the early church persevered; one of the things that helped them endure faithfully was prayer.  In “New Beginnings”, chapter 28 of THE STORY we read how the Apostles taught the gospel message of salvation and how the church began.  The early growth was explosive and impressive.  But when the Jewish leaders saw how their whole power structure was threatened, they turned on the Christians; the enemies of Christ continue the same pattern to this very day. These believers revealed the characteristics of the victorious Church when they met together at the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, to pray for the safety of a brother they loved.  May we follow their example in life and in prayer.

I.  Best of Times, Worst of times. Acts 1—12

When He established the church using signs and wonders, God fulfilled what the prophet Joel predicted, and He did this to verify the apostles’ teaching.  Peter and the Apostles explained who Jesus was and invited their listeners to become his followers.  In his sermon, Peter invited them to come to Jesus and to receive the indwelling of His Spirit to guide their lives—something the Old Testament law couldn’t offer.  In the beginning, the new believers “enjoyed the favor of all people.”  But that soon changed.

1.  Note the events from the Acts passages that show how the new believers were threatened as the church grew. (Dates are approximate).

AD30-37-

  • 2:1-13, 41________________________________________________________________
  • 4:1-4____________________________________________________________________
  • 5:17-21,29-33____________________________________________________________
  • 7:54-59__________________________________________________________________

AD 39-40

  • 8:1-3____________________________________________________________________

AD 44

  • 12:1-2___________________________________________________________________
  • 12:3-4___________________________________________________________________

II. God Led Peter to Safety.  Acts 12:5-17

The believers saw God demonstrate His power and protection, even in the midst of severe persecution.  The Jewish (and later the Gentile) opposition used all the human power that was available—from politics to purely vicious physical attacks, including murder.  These enemies were sure they were doing the right thing, but their efforts seemed to inspire growth rather than thwart Christ’s church.  The friends who assembled to pray for Peter when he was arrested could have told them why.

1.  What was happening while Peter was in jail? (v. 5)

2.  Who woke Peter up? (v. 7)

3.  What was Peter’s state of mind as the angel led him away from the jail?  (v. 9)

4.  Where was Peter when he “came to himself”? (v. 11)

5.  When Peter finally realized he had been delivered from Herod by God, where did he “just happen” to go?  (v. 12)

6.  What was the reaction of the people when they saw Peter in person? (v.16)

7.  When Peter finally gained entrance into the home, what did he tell them? (v. 17)

8.  To whom did Peter send the message about his experience? (v. 17; Acts 21:17; Galatians 1:19)

9.  What would this testimony mean to the people who met in Mary’s home, and to the church leaders who were under persecution?

 

III. Mary, the mother of John.  Acts 12:12-13; Mark 14:51

This Mary is only named one time in the New Testament, but studying the events and people that surrounded her gives us some important information.  We can discover several reasons why Peter knew that Mary’s home was a safe place. Her example will still benefit those who want to serve God in our day as well.

Mary’s home: Acts 12:12-13

Though the early Christians met in homes (Acts 8:3), it was also the practice for many Jewish synagogue meetings to take place in an extra room or a home that would accommodate a group.  It would actually have been the natural thing for the Christians to meet in homes especially after the persecution of Christians by the Judaizers.  These people used what they had to benefit the Kingdom.

1.  What does an outer entrance tell us about a home, even today?

2.  How many people were gathered there?

3.  What kind of people were they?

4.  What does the fact that Mary had a maid imply?

Mary’s influence:  What we can learn about Mary’s family also gives us knowledge about the kind of woman Mary was.  Answer the following questions about Mark:

5.  Who was her son and what did he write about? Mark 1:1; Mark 14:51,

6. Whom did he accompany in ministry? Acts 12:12, 25

7.  How did the following evangelists describe Mark?

Peter- 1 Peter 5:13                                                     Paul- 2 Timothy 4:11

8.  Who was a relative of Mary and John Mark? (What was his relation to Mary?) Colossians 4:10

9.  What kind of man was he?

Acts 4:36-37

Acts 11:22-26

Acts 13:2

10.  What are fair conclusions that we can draw from this information about Mary’s home and influence?

IV.  A Safe Place I Peter 3—4

Jesus taught his followers that the world would know them by their love for one another (John 13:35).  Love creates a safe place for those who would be drawn to the church.  Later, Peter wrote two letters of encouragement and instruction to the churches.   His good friend, Mary, had lived out many of the same characteristics that Peter wanted to see in all believers.  From the selected passages in chapters three and four of 1 Peter, make a description of a brotherhood of love.  (Try to imagine Mary’s thoughts if she had read this letter.  What memories would some of these suggestions have brought back!)

 3:1-6

3:8

3:9

3:10

3: 14

3:15-16

4:1-2

4:7

4:8

4:9

4:10

4:11

Key question:  Which characteristics will you develop in your life to create a safe haven for your family and church?

For further reflection:  Study the fellowship of the early church and note how they applied the above characteristics:

Acts 2:42-47

Acts 4:32-36

Acts 6:1-7

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