Study | Church Beginnings

Acts 1

Human leadership is important to grow the Kingdom of God

Luke wrote the book of Acts to directly follow the events contained in his gospel account. Keep in mind that Luke is not a disciple – he did some serious research and interviews in order to present his two books to us.

In Acts chapter 1, we pick up where we left off. Jesus is resurrected, and he’s making sure it’s known! He spends 40 days publicly presenting himself as alive, and speaking to crowds about the Kingdom of God. Beyond that, Jesus spends intimate time with the eleven (the original disciples sans Judas Iscariot). He tells them to stay in Jerusalem until the baptism of the Holy Spirit comes upon them. More on the Holy Spirit and Pentecost next week!

Jesus spends time with his followers focusing on bringing all nations into the Kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom is not exclusive except that he, Jesus Christ, is the only way into right relationship with God. Membership in the Kingdom is not limited to Israel, but is for all tribes and tongues and nations! And this is all possible through the Spirit, who dwells inside each believer, uniting the community into one Kingdom.

At the end of the 40 days, Jesus ascends into the clouds. What a marvelous sight! An angel visits the disciples to reassure them that Jesus will return the same way he ascended, referencing the events to come when Heaven finally meets Earth for good.

From there, the disciples take action. The eleven along with women including Mary the mother of Jesus gather together and pray. Peter says that Judas Iscariot’s place must be filled. While Judas ultimately made terrible decisions, the Scriptures still speak about him and he did share in Jesus’ ministry.

Peter references Davidic Psalms 69 and 109 (which foretell the emergence of and victory over the enemy) in making his case for Judas’ replacement. This new leader must have spent time with Jesus and witnessed the resurrected Christ to strengthen his belief and testimony to others as the church is formed. This reminds me of 1 Timothy 3, where Paul makes a strong argument that leaders in the church should not be new believers but should be seasoned to help others in their walk with Christ.

At the end of this chapter, two nominees arise: Joseph (known as Barsabbas or Justus) and Matthias. After prayer and the casting of lots (as this is how people sought God’s will before Acts 2/the Pentecost when the Spirit began living inside believers as The Helper), Matthias is chosen.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Who is the Holy Spirit and why does Jesus emphasize his importance?
  2. What type of person did Peter and the apostles want to replace Judas?
  3. Why does Peter emphasize human leadership?
  4. How are you a leader in your home, workplace, and community?

Study | Therefore

Matthew 28:18-20

Because Jesus has all authority, we are to GO!

In this story from the Bible, Jesus gives a command that is just as relevant today as it was when Peter and the other disciples heard it 2,000 years ago.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The word “therefore” is used all throughout the Bible, and in our lives today. “Therefore” means that x leads directly to y. Simple cause and effect, right?

Even though Jesus speaks clearly, his command is not the easiest to carry out.

Jesus says that because he has complete authority, the disciples and all his followers are to go and continue going for all their days to make disciples in every place on earth. The Kingdom of God is not limited to peoples of certain races, upbringing, geographical locations, anything. Jesus is sure to say, make disciples of all nations!

He gives distinct instructions on how to make more disciples, expanding the Kingdom. Jesus directs the disciples to grow their numbers by baptizing people in the name of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. He also tells the disciples to raise new believers up by teaching them to obey everything he has commanded during his time on Earth.

Jesus, speaking from his place of power as conqueror of death, confers the holy purpose of growing God’s Kingdom to his disciples. He has established the Kingdom on Earth and now hands his mission to the eleven. Jesus gives them the blueprints, the plans to continue growing the Kingdom – by making disciples, and baptizing and teaching new followers. But beyond all this, Jesus provides sustenance to follow through on all these commands.

Jesus gives the disciples the promise of his presence. “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Be encouraged as you go to carry out this mission!

Questions for discussion:

  1. What is the Kingdom of God? What does it mean to you?
  2. How do you grow the Kingdom? Look at the main action verbs of the passage.
  3. What are we saying to Jesus if we do not follow through on those verbs? What does inaction say of Jesus’ authority over your life?

Study | Jesus & His Lambs

John 21:15-25

Following Jesus means caring for and feeding others

After breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, John’s final story of Jesus records a conversation between Christ and Simon Peter. While Jesus and Peter walk the shoreline, they are followed by John, listening in on their exchange.

Jesus starts by asking Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” To which Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

So follows Jesus’ command, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, and Peter replies the same way. Jesus tells Peter once more, “Take care of my sheep.”

A third time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times, a complete Biblical number. At this point, Peter is hurt, deeply wounded that Jesus seems to doubt Peter’s love. Really, Jesus is emphasizing how important this charge is for his disciple.

“Feed my sheep.”

Jesus continues this time, though. He speaks to Peter about how in the future Peter will not be able to control his path as much as he could in the past. He will be led to where he doesn’t want to go. John clarifies here: Jesus is speaking of how Peter will die (crucified like Christ, but upside down because Peter knows he cannot be compared to Jesus) and how it will glorify God.

Jesus says all this, and gives one ultimate, final command – “Follow me!”

At this point, Peter notices that John is trailing them. He looks to Jesus, asking, “What about him?”

And Jesus brushes it off. “What’s it to you?” It doesn’t matter if the man is renowned for living until I return (which John and history confirm is not true), he shouldn’t be your focus. “Follow me.”

With that, John concludes his account of the Gospel. He writes that Jesus did many other things in his life, and if they were all recorded in books the tomes would be too numerous to count or contain. How amazing it is to think of how much more Jesus did in his 33 years!

Questions for discussion:

  1. Who are the sheep? And what does it mean to care for and feed them?
  2. Can you confidently say that you love Jesus? How do you show that to people every day?
  3. Peter compares his calling to John’s. Have you ever compared yourself to someone else? In what ways?

Study | Never Idle

John 21:1-14

We can serve God even when we are waiting for our next move

This Bible story takes place after Jesus has risen and already appeared to Mary Magdalene and visited the disciples gathered together. Jesus gives the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, and Thomas confirms who Jesus is by seeing his hands and side, wounded from the crucifixion.

One night at the Sea of Galilee, Peter decides to go fishing and Thomas, Nathaneal, the sons of Zebedee, and two others accompany him. Maybe they are bored of waiting for Jesus, maybe this is an act of apostasy. Maybe they are just hungry! Today, many scholars argue that the disciples aren’t just wasting time, but they choose to return to what they know while they wait. They have not yet been given the Great Commission, so they choose to continue the work they know while they wait for instruction from Jesus.

Regardless of their intention, the disciples catch nothing overnight, and morning seems to come too early.

Enter Jesus. The disciples don’t recognize him right away, as he’s 100 yards away on the shore when he appears on scene. Jesus asks the men if they have a catch, to which they reply no.

Then, Jesus gives them a promise. He says, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some [fish].”

Jesus delivers. The disciples don’t just net a few fish. They bring in a haul! At this, John declares his realization – “It is the Lord!”

Peter responds. He doesn’t yell out, he doesn’t stay in the boat – a theme with this disciple.

Peter gathers his garment around him (presumably he doesn’t wear much while fishing), jumps into the water, and rushes back to shore to see Jesus.

The others follow with full nets, having caught 153 fish! But the net wasn’t torn. They have the full capability to pull in the nets filled with their promised catch.

When Peter and the others arrive on shore, Jesus has already started a fire and is cooking fish for breakfast. And yet, he beckons for more fish from the disciples’ catch. He wants to involve the disciples in bringing in fish – an image of how all disciples partner with Jesus to carry the Gospel to all corners of the earth.

When the disciples sit down, they have no reason to ask if it really is Jesus there. They simply know it’s him. Jesus invites his friends in, breaks bread, and shares the fish he has prepared.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Why do you think the disciples went fishing? What do we learn from their actions? And why would Jesus appear here, at this time?
  2. What are some parallels between this story and others involving Jesus and the disciples?
  3. Are you waiting for something? How can you stay active in the waiting?

Study | Sharing the Gospel, pt. 2

John 20:11-18

What we do with our knowledge of the Gospel makes all the difference

The second part of this Bible story centers around Mary Magdalene. John and Peter just left the tomb after seeing it was empty, leaving Mary there alone.

Mary starts weeping over the loss of her Savior. With blurry vision, she looks in and suddenly sees two angels sitting exactly where Jesus’ body had been laid just a couple days ago. They ask her, why are you crying? To which Mary answers, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”

What a heart-wrenching thing to admit. I can imagine that this realization hits her, making her cry more fiercely.

Little does she know that Jesus is standing right behind her. She turns and sees a man, but doesn’t recognize him! Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener when he asks why she is crying. “Who is it you’re looking for?”

Mary, not caring if she touches the dead, the unclean, answers: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” What a powerful image of Mary’s dedication to her Lord.

Jesus hears Mary, he sees her in her distress. He calls to her. “Mary.”

So simple, so profound.

Rabboni! My Teacher!” Mary exclaims in recognition of her Savior.

He responds to this dedicated, immovable woman. Don’t cling to me now, don’t hold on to my physical form. I’m not done. I will ascend to my Father. But first, go to the disciples, my brothers, and tell them that I will ascend!

And Mary carries out his commands, going to the disciples to relay what has happened. “I have seen the Lord!”

Questions for discussion:

  1. How did Mary miss that she was talking to Jesus? When did Mary realize it was him?
  2. Have you ever experienced a deep calling from God to go and do something on his behalf? What was it?
  3. Mary declares, “I have seen the Lord!” When you first came to believe in Jesus, what actions did you take? Pray that you have renewed faith and have a zeal to spread the Good News!

Study | Sharing the Gospel, pt. 1

John 20:1-10

What we do with our knowledge of the Gospel makes all the difference

This Bible story opens early Sunday morning, after that fateful Friday when the Christ was crucified. Mary Magdalene, a woman healed by Jesus, visits the tomb where his body had been laid.

When she arrives, she sees the stone that had sealed the tomb was missing! Not knowing exactly what this means, Mary doesn’t hesitate to run to the disciples who had already gathered together behind closed doors to figure out what to do now that Jesus was gone.

She bursts in, announcing her news. The one Jesus loved, John, and Peter immediately begin a footrace to the tomb to see this with their own eyes.

John gets to the tomb first, and looks in from the outside at the linen that had been used to cover Jesus lying there. Peter, bold Peter passes John and enters the tomb and sees the linen, and also finds the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head at burial there separately.

The Bible says that John sees this and believes. Do John and Peter understand that the Scriptures say Jesus was to die and rise? No. But still, John believes.

At this, Peter and John return to their friends where they are staying. The Bible does not mention what they do with the information they have. Do they tell the other disciples, or keep it to themselves to ponder? I can imagine they wrestle with this knowledge, trying to grasp it. Is the empty tomb a testament to the divine, or can it simply be credited to grave robbers? And what exactly are they supposed to do in either case? Wait for Jesus’ intervention, or simply go and spread the news (risking their credibility and even their safety)?

The question for the believer is, what do you do with your knowledge of Jesus’ supernatural resurrection?

Questions for discussion:

  1. What did the people in the story do with the knowledge they had?
  2. What is the significance of John’s and Peter’s actions (or lack thereof) at the tomb? Put yourself in their shoes – what would you have done? (Don’t be so quick to judge!)
  3. The people we’ve talked about literally had firsthand knowledge of the Gospel! When you first gained knowledge of Jesus, what do you do with it? What about now?

Study | Distance & Denial

Mark 14:27-31, 66-72

How we act when we feel distant from Jesus shouldn’t be different from or contradict how we act when we feel close to Him

Immediately following the Last Supper, and prior to his time in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus speaks to his disciples about their impending denial. What a confusing thing, that just after spending an intimate night together, Jesus would simply state that, “You will all fall away.”

Naturally, Peter denies his denial. “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

Jesus corrects him, warning Peter that before the rooster crows twice, he will fail Jesus three times. Three times! Incredulous, Peter declares he will stand by Jesus til death. While this would be true eventually, Peter’s heart falls far away from Jesus later that very evening.

Peter is with Jesus in the Garden as the Sanhedrin and other religious leaders come to arrest him with Judas. But as soon as Jesus makes his decision to follow God’s will and fulfill the Scriptures with his sacrifice, Peter runs.

As Peter stays outside the courtyard of the high priest where Jesus is tried, he fails to stand with his Lord in the face of adversity and rejection. Jesus is condemned to death by crucifixion without a friend beside him.

Outside the courtyard where the Savior of the world is being beaten and scorned in preparation for the cross, Peter is recognized and questioned about his knowing Jesus of Galilee not once or twice, but three times. And he denies Jesus every time.

He disowns Jesus that third time, and the rooster crows a second time.

Peter breaks. He breaks and weeps, realizing what he has done to his Lord, his Teacher, his Friend. Ultimately, when Peter seems to be close to Jesus on that fateful night, he is furthest away spiritually.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What do you learn about Jesus through this story?
  2. When do you feel closest to Jesus? When do you feel far?
  3. What do you personally need to do to remember to stand with Jesus during difficult situations?