Blueprint #5 - Power

READ – Acts 3:1-4:22  | POWER

One of the central claims of Christianity is that, in the early part of the first century, Jesus of Nazareth was killed by the religious and political powers of Jerusalem for claiming to be God in the flesh. Three days later He miraculously rose from death. While the implications of that are inexhaustible, one implication is clear: Jesus’ resurrection introduced a new kind of power in the world. That’s what is on display in Acts 3-4 – the power of the new creation in the healing of a disabled beggar. It’s clear that the audience of the miracle were particularly interested in the power at work in Peter and John. The crowds were amazed by the power (Acts 3:12) and the Sanhedrin or religious rulers were annoyed by it (Acts 4:7). What is this power and how does it connect with our life today? That’s the focus of Sunday’s message.

1. WHERE’S THE POWER FROM?

The concept of power may be too abstract for us. Nevertheless, it is a very present part of our experience. Consider this: power is the capacity to affect reality. Think of a typical workplace. Power is always at work in any organization or institution. Some have legitimate power because they’re in a higher position that necessitates control over people in lower positions. Some have the power of an expert – they are influencers because they hold the right academic degrees or have the right experience. Some people you know have connectional power. They attain influence and clout in the company by gaining favor with their higher ups.

In Acts 3-4 there’s two hints about where people look for power and Peter’s message about where power can ultimately be found.

·         Looking Out | Some people look out to find power in external structures, rituals, or strong leaders. For 1st century Jews and pagans, power often came from temple(s). At the center of Judaism was the temple in Jerusalem. This was the place where a powerful connection with God could be found through worship and the place where God had promised to be powerfully present. For the modern, secular West, our places and people of power are not necessarily religious temples, but we still look out to find power. Consider Silicon Valley and the allure of technology to shape and affect reality into a better world.

·         Looking In | Some people look inward for power. For a 1st century audience, power could come from people who were highly spiritual and religious. Thus, Peter deflects attention away from himself after the miraculous healing (Acts 3:12). For 21st century people, we too often look to the self. You can discover countless self-help strategies that invite you to ignore external validation and instead become confident and bold by living up to your own standards, following your own North Star, or focusing on your own self-worth.

·         Looking Up | Peter points us to another way. He invites us to look up. If you are unsure whether or not the power demonstrated through Peter and John is really necessary, then consider this: isn’t the world and our lives filled with brokenness? Aren’t all of us (in countless ways) reaching for some kind of capacity to affect reality, to move things towards a better place? You may have relationships that are disintegrating and you feel helpless. Your kids may be ignoring Jesus and chasing after false idols and you’re powerless. You may be stuck in a job where people are abusing their power, and you are incapable of changing the system. Peter fixes our attention on the reality that God has housed and centered his power on Jesus of Nazareth.

2. WHAT’S THE POWER FOR?

The miraculous healing of the lame beggar by Jesus through the words of Peter and John shows us not only the source of power, but the purpose of the power.

First, the healing is a prophetic pointer to the cosmic healing of all physical brokenness and disability. Peter’s claim in Acts 3:21 is that Jesus’ reign will eventually result in the restoration of all things spoken of through the prophets. The Old Testament spoke often of a time when all things would be put back to rights by a chosen and anointed Messiah, a Rescuer who would come not only to make the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk, but vanquish the powers that had caused the world to give way to entropy and death. Miracles in the Bible aren’t just a show of strength, but a sign about the alleviation of all suffering that’s coming through the Messiah. That means that God cares about the material world. He cares about your body. He cares about suffering and brokenness and is no happier with all of it than we are.

Second, the physical healing of the beggar also points to the spiritual healing of sinful brokenness. The man’s physical condition before the healing pointed toward our spiritual condition right now. He was disabled in his body; but the Bible’s claim is that we are all disabled in our hearts. We are constantly looking to sources of power we think will fix our problems and offer us a better world, but they actually won’t – just like some spare money from Peter wouldn’t have healed the man of his primary problem. God says that our deepest, primary problem is sin. Sin is a kind of spiritual disease. It disables us. It cripples everything we do and touch. It twists and distorts the ways in which we desire and utilize power – whether it’s money, control, significance. But it’s not something that only works on us, we also actively choose it. Peter says as much in his sermon to the religious elite in Acts 4 – sin is the rejection of Jesus, the cornerstone, the ultimate Power in the universe.

3. HOW DO WE ACCESS THE POWER?

So how do we access the power? Repentance and faith. That’s what Peter says in Acts 3:19 and Acts 3:16.  

Repentance is a kind of turning back from our own pursuit of power. It’s admitting we are not in control. It’s the confession that we are powerless. Ironically, repentance is a giving up of power that is in fact powerful. In repentance we place ourselves under the command and control of Jesus, the Christ, the Author of our lives and life itself. But in submitting to him, we are inviting the Source of all power to enter our lives and utilize us for his kingdom.

Faith is trusting in “the Name” of Jesus. That’s another way of saying the reality of Jesus. His Name stands for who he is. So faith in His Name means trusting and banking your entire reality on Jesus. If power is all about the capacity to do something to achieve a result, then faith is the opposite: it’s the recognition and rest in the results already accomplished by Jesus. It’s leaning your entire life into Jesus’ capacity and ability, not your own.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1.       What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.      Is power in and of itself wrong? Why or why not? Are there legitimate uses of power? Explain.

3.       Are there ways in which you look out or look in to find power? The sermon mentioned the tech world of Silicon Valley and the techniques of self-help. What are some other ways in which we look to sources of power besides God? How do you think looking out and looking in rather than looking up affects the way we seek and use power?

4.      The power on display in Acts 3-4 points towards both cosmic physical healing and personal spiritual healing. What are some ways you have experienced God’s powerful grace in healing you this week? What are areas of brokenness in our neighborhood, culture, and world that you are longing for God to heal? What does prayer for both kinds of healing look like?

5.      Jesus was the stone rejected that became the cornerstone. He was the crucified criminal who became the King of the world. How does that shape your view and pursuit of power? What does it look like to follow Jesus with the power he grants us?

Blueprint #4 - The First Church

READ – Acts 2:42-47 | THE FIRST CHURCH

“Can’t I have Jesus without the church?” “Do we really need organized and institutionalized religion?” “What is the church for?” These are questions many people are asking. You may be asking these questions yourself.  As the one and only history of the first church, the book of Acts is the best place for us to go to find answers to these questions. The best place for us to start is on the day the church was born.    

It was a dramatic start. The first day of the church included rushing wind, fire and people speaking languages they had never heard before. The first sermon was powerful and inspiring. In one day 3000 were baptized into the church. But Acts 2 says the real highlight wasn’t all these extraordinary and spectacular events and or big results. The real awe, power, gladness and attraction was found in the ordinary and daily life of the church. A church like this is the blueprint for the kind of church Jesus seeks to build today.

1. WE WHY NEED A CHURCH LIKE THIS

The bible teaches that our need for community is rooted in the very nature of God and reality itself. God exists in community as Father, Son and Spirit. As human beings made in the image of God, we were made for community and relationship. This is why the book of Acts isn’t a collection of stories of Jesus working in isolated individual lives, it’s the story of Jesus building churches like the one in Acts 2 in every place across the ancient world.  We need a church like this because it’s only in community where we find Jesus in all his fullness and where we find what we need to become more like him.

Acts 2:42 is a one sentence summary of the kind of community every person needs. We need a church like this because there are 4 things we were never meant to (and can’t) do on our own.

1.       Learn – The apostle’s teaching is listed first intentionally. This teaching was centered on the gospel. Every day they learned more about who Jesus is, all he did and is doing for broken sinners. This was the heart, center and priority of the church. They needed a community to learn it, to ask questions about it and to work out its implications in their lives.

2.      Have Stuff – Acts says they were devoted to “the fellowship”. “Fellowship” means the sharing of life and resources. They “held everything in common” (v44). This doesn’t mean they gave up on the concept of private property; but it does mean they gave up on the concept of anyone’s ultimate ownership of their stuff. If it was all God’s, he could redirect at any time to meet the needs of others.

3.       Eat – “the breaking of bread”. The one program, strategy and context for all ministry in this church was eating in people’s homes. Eating is meant to be a communal act - an act that fosters belonging and creates bonds between people and with God. 

4.      Pray – The phrase here can be translated “the prayers”. It refers to regular set times for corporate prayer. Private and unplanned prayer is essential, but it is not sufficient for us to sustain our spiritual lives. We are meant to connect with God together through prayer.

2. HOW WE RESIST A CHURCH LIKE THIS

Although we may be intrigued and inspired at the thought of being a part of a church like this, the reason finding a church like this is so hard is that we all resist it. Why we anyone resist being a part of such a vibrant community?

#1 - We resist the commitment – The word devoted in 2:42 carries a radical intensity and commitment. Nothing about this church was accidental, casual or “organic”. The met “every day in the temple and from house to house”. This makes us uncomfortable. If we’re honest, most of us think, “I’m all for community, but it needs to be on my terms. I’ll need an opt out clause which I can use at any time if things get awkward, difficult or hard.”  But this church’s vibrancy and power came from everyone leaving their opt-out clauses at the door.

#2 - We resist the ownership – “Now all the believers were together and held all things in common” (2:46) The phrase “were together” is hard to translate. It means that each person said, “I have a part in the church being and becoming what it is meant to be just as much as anyone else. That’s ownership. The language we use for our part in the church reveals an underlying perspective. We talk about “going to church” as if it were an event among many on our calendars. This church shows us what it means not to “go to church” but to “be the church”. Church was who they were. They knew that God saves us each from sin but also saves us each into the church. Every Christian is a member and part of the church.  So, we each have a part to play, a part to own in a particular church. The bible knows no such thing as solo Christianity, private faith, Jesus without the church or quitting the church.

3. HOW JESUS BUILDS A CHURCH LIKE THIS

If everyone needs a community like this yet everyone resists it, how can we ever build a church like this? The answer is that we can’t. No human effort, strategy or resolve is enough. It must be built by Jesus. When we read this passage in context, it’s clear that this church’s devotion and ownership didn’t happen as a result of a pastor’s vision or a church’s programs. What we see is Jesus ascending, Jesus sending his Spirit, the Spirit speaking the gospel about Jesus through Peter and – a church like this is born. This passage isn’t a strategy or a program – it’s a fulfillment. It’s Jesus building what he intended to build for humanity from the beginning. A human community where needs are met, God is worshipped, joy is contagious, and people are truly one.

But how can Jesus build this church through broken and resistant people like us? It’s the good news of forgiveness that cures us of our avoidance of commitment and ownership (2:38). Forgiveness means God says to every Christian:

·         I don’t see you as a sinner or problem but as a holy saint and beloved child. Your sin—past, present, future—is forgiven.

·         I will never make you pay for your sins and failures. The debt is paid.

·         Your sins/faults don’t stand in the way of our relationship or my love.

·         Your sins/faults will never stop me from doing good for you and being for you always.

Because Jesus paid the full cost of our forgiveness at the cross, God always responds to our sin this way. No exceptions. With regard to God’s community, the church, forgiveness means the cost to get in and the cost to stay in has been paid in full by another. There’s no other community like this. When we are free from earning our place or trying to keep our place in a community, we are free to love, accept and serve other broken sinful people as they are. This is how Jesus builds a church like this.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1.       What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.      Which of the 4 things we were never meant to (and can’t) do alone (from Acts 2:42) do you most find yourself trying to do all alone? How might this change?

3.       Which do you find yourself resisting more when it comes to church – commitment or ownership? Why?

4.      Read the section below. Do you agree/disagree? How is the dynamic at work in your life?

We believe that the freedom from commitment is what guards our happiness. We can’t be tied down to some boring same ole, same ole. What if we miss out on something better? We want the individual freedom to seek happiness elsewhere, so we think we need to safeguard our joy, happiness in life by having freedom from commitment. Acts 2:42-47 shows us that it’s the other way around - The freedom in commitment is what guards true happiness. If everyone can opt out at any time for any good reason, no one is safe enough to be themselves, no one feels safe enough to be honest. But with commitment comes the safety to be ourselves and – by God’s grace – to be forgiven, loved and served despite my flaws, mess and sin. This is how we experience true wonder, joy and happiness in relationships.

5.      What difference would it make in our churches if we applied the gospel to our relationships in this way:

·         The people in my church are more weak, sinful, broken than they’ll ever realize or admit. I’ll expect sin, misunderstanding and friction.

·         The people in my church are more loved, accepted and forgiven than they’ll ever know. Sin, misunderstanding and friction are opportunities for me to show them this by forgiving them.

·         I’ll never have to forgive more than I’ve been forgiven.

Blueprint #3 - The First Sermon

READ – Acts 2:21-41  | THE FIRST SERMON

Acts chapter 2 is all about firsts. Luke tells us about the first day of the church – the day of Pentecost (2:1-14). He paints a powerful picture of the first church in action (2:42-47). But at the center of everything was the first sermon ever preached (Acts 2:21-41). It was the highlight of the first day. It was this sermon that inspired thousands to be baptized and join this radical new movement of people that believed Jesus was risen and reigning over the world.  Does it strike you as one of the most (if not THE most) powerful and effective sermon/speech ever? What’s most notable about the sermon is that leaves the audience asking, “What should we do?” (v.37). Isn’t a good Christian sermon all about telling people what to do and not to do? Maybe we’ve got it all wrong.

Peter’s sermon is essentially an exposition of one verse from the book of Joel. As Peter explains each phrase of this verse, we see what the central message of Christianity is and how we get it all wrong if we think it’s about what we do.

1. “EVERYONE”

Peter explains that the last days spoken of in Joel 2 have come. A new inclusion has come to the world. It’s something neither Israel nor the world had ever seen or ever thought possible. In the last days God will call “everyone” into a new community – i.e. “sons and daughters”, “young and old”, “servants both male and female”. The Holy Spirit was poured out equally on all regardless of gender, age, social class or race (language). Peter’s sermon is announcing to all: Jesus is the most inclusive force the world has ever known.  Jesus is inclusive to everyone.

Peter’s sermon is given to “devout Jewish people from every nation”. This is a gathering of the most religious and faithful people in the world at the time. Peter’s message to them – you are just like everyone. You need to call out to the Lord just like those who you think are “far off” (v.38). He called them to repent. Their religious devotion couldn’t save them. Peter is clear – Jesus doesn’t just offend “sinners”; Jesus offends everyone who thinks their goodness is better than anyone else’s. Jesus is offensive to everyone.

2. “WHO CALLS ON”

When Peter pauses to catch his breath, the crowd asks, “What should we do?” (v.37) We can imagine Peter thinking, “Do!? Have you been listing to my sermon! I didn’t say you needed to do anything. I’ve been talking about Jesus - It’s all been done by Him. Just turn your life toward Him, He will do it for you and in you. Be baptized in his name. Let your name (all that you are and have done) be washed, covered and submerged into His name (all that He is and has done).” It’s that effortless, like water being poured over you. We just call on Him and he does the rest. Calling on Jesus is more effortless than anything.

You might be thinking, “If it’s that effortless and easy then why isn’t it automatic? Doesn’t something need to happen for someone to become or to grow as a Christian?” Yes! But it’s not something we can just do or decide upon ourselves – like a new diet or a self-help resolution. The Word has to pierce us and cut us in the deepest place in the core of our being (our heart, v.36). No one calls out until they’re first cut to the heart.

How does the human heart get pierced? It’s when the words “Jesus, whom you crucified” become personal. The cross show us the true nature and depth of our sin. But at the same time, the cross shows us the true nature and depth of God’s love for us, personally. What pierces the heart is when one can say "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - and I am the worst of them.” (1 Tim 1:15). Calling on Jesus is more painful than anything. It’s this painful piercing that finally breaks the hardness of our hearts so that God can pour in His Spirit, his love, his forgiveness and his grace.

3. “THE NAME OF THE LORD”

Peter spends most of his sermon showing how calling on the “name of the Lord” means calling on Jesus. In the bible “name” = “person”. The name of the Lord is shorthand for all of who Jesus is and all that he has done, is doing and will do. This puts everything we do into perspective. Nothing we do to become Christians or grow as Christians is outside of our personal connection, union and relationship to Him. Everything must come back to the name of Jesus. We don’t call on Jesus to get something from Him. We call on Him. What we most need is not to get something from Him, what we most need is His name - Him.

Peter also shows from Scripture that calling on Jesus means calling on Him as Lord. In quoting Psalm 110 (v.34-35), Peter announces that Jesus is the Lord at God’s right hand and that everything must (and will) come under the name of Jesus. The bible says there are only 3 categories of persons in the universe – the Lord, those who call upon the name of the Lord and the enemies of the Lord. What Jesus shows us in His life, death and resurrection is that the hostility is not on God’s side but on ours. We could summarize the whole ministry and teaching of Jesus as announcing to the world, “God is NOT your enemy!” This is the lie beneath all other lies. Our true enemies are our own self-centeredness/independence, our self-righteousness, sin, the flesh, the world and the devil - everything that works to keep us away from God and knowing that he loves us and he made us for joy in his presence. Here is the key to Christian obedience - when we see God is not and never can be our enemy. Everything he calls us to surrender to Him is for our ultimate good. This is the message of the cross (Romans 5:10) When we see this, we gladly submit everything to him.

4. “WILL BE SAVED”

There is a certainty in these last three words. As Peter concludes, he says we can know with “certainty this Jesus is Lord and Messiah”. When we look for certainty in what we do, how good or consistent we are, or how we feel we will be disappointed. These things are not certain. When we look for certainty in finances, success, achievements, relationships, theology, doctrine, we will be disappointed. None of these things are certain. But when our certainty is found in “this Jesus”, He will never fail us.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1.       What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.      In what ways can churches or Christians communicate exclusion instead of the radical inclusion of Jesus (even unintentionally)? What can be done about this?

3.       How does Jesus especially offend devout, religious, good people? Has he offended you in this way?

4.      How can becoming and growing as a Christian be more effortless and more painful than anything – at the same time? Have you experienced this dynamic in your relationship with God?

5.      Have you ever realized you were calling out to Jesus more to get something from Him than to get “more of Him”? Is there anything wrong with this? What’s the difference?

6.      What do you most struggle with placing under the Lordship of Jesus? Do you think it could be rooted in the belief that God is your enemy? Why or why not?

7.       What feels most uncertain in your life right now? How might knowing with certainty that Jesus is Lord and Messiah give you endurance, encouragement and hope?

BONUS EXERCISE - The First Sermon – A Gospel Test

You know it’s not the gospel if…

1.       It causes you to look down on, exclude, denigrate or ignore any person, in any way because of their age, gender, race or social class.

2.      It doesn’t offend you by calling you to repent of your best religious efforts and goodness.

3.       It’s telling your main problem are due to a lack of self-effort.

4.      It doesn’t cut you to the core and pierce your heart.

5.      It minimizes or excuses sin.

6.      It makes a bigger deal about or focuses more on sin than on the name of Jesus.

7.       It’s more about getting something from Jesus than about knowing more of Jesus.

8.      It doesn’t call you to bring everything in your life under Jesus, no exceptions.

9.      It makes God out to be your enemy.

10.   It points you toward certainty in anything or anyone other than Jesus (who He is and what He’s done).

DISCUSSION

·         Do you disagree with or have reservations/questions any of these 10 statements? Explain.

·         Which of these do you tend to most lose sight of or is hardest for you to grasp? Why?

·         Which of these do you most need to remember and hold onto in your life right now? Why?

Blueprint #2 - The Holy Spirit

READ – Acts 2:1-21  | THE HOLY SPIRIT

As one scholar says, Acts can be read as “God’s call to remember and reflect on his design for the church and reconsider how our [church] fits – or fails to fit the blueprint.” (Dennis Johnson, The Message of Acts). Acts shows us Jesus’ building plans for the church. If Acts 1 shows us the plans for the foundation of church (the proof of the resurrection, the promise of God and prayer), then Acts 2 shows us the plans for the frame. The foundation is what you build everything on, the frame is what you build everything in.  In Acts chapter 2, we read the story of the very first church. In this story Luke shows us the frame. He tells us about three things that, if you don’t have (as the frame), you don’t have a church. The first of these is the Holy Spirit – the life-giving power and presence of God Himself (the other two are the gospel and life-together community - which we’ll look at in the following two studies). The Holy Sprit’s person and work is something that can be unclear and confusing for us. Acts 2:1-21 helps understand who the Holy Spirit is, what the He does, how He does it and who He does it through. 

1. THE HOLY SPIRIT… STARTS SOMETHING NEW (2:1-4)

Luke goes out of his way to tell us about the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the praying church. It was the day of Pentecost. For the Jewish people, Pentecost was one of the three major festivals and holidays of the year (the others being Passover and Tabernacles). Pentecost was a day to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. God poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost as a way of saying, “Today is the first fruits of a new harvest. Starting today the message of Jesus will go out to the ends of the earth (1:8)”.  

Peter explains the significance of the day by quoting from the prophet Joel, “it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people”. Pentecost was the start of a new time, a new age - the “last days”. The “last days” in the OT was the time to come when God would give people new hearts, make a new covenant and do a new thing in the world. Peter is saying that time has come.

God gave three powerful signs to confirm and reveal to the church what the Holy Spirit’s filling meant. The first was the “violent rushing wind” (CSB). The word Luke chooses for wind here is usually translated “breath”. It’s a word that connects to two other places in the OT. The first is Gen. 2:7 where God breathed into man the breath of life. The second is Ezekiel 37 where God says to a valley of dry bones, “I will make breath enter you and you will come to life… I will put my Spirit in you and you will live”. The Holy Spirit is the life-giving breath & power of God.

The second sign was the tongues/flames of fire. Throughout Scripture, fire is a sign of God’s holy presence. When fire burns and consumes something, it leaves behind something purified, something new. These two signs teach us much about who the Holy Spirit is and what He does. The Holy Spirit is the life-giving holy presence of God Himself. He breathes new life and sets afire that which needs refining.

What happens when you put wind and fire together? Something that cannot be managed, controlled, predicted or stopped. This is the Holy Spirit.

2. THE HOLY SPIRIT… SPEAKS A NEW LANGUAGE (2:5-12)

In addition to the signs of wind and fire, the strangest sign God gave at Pentecost was ability to speak in different tongues/languages. What was this all about? By listing all the nations represented (v.9-11) and highlighting the miracle of understanding, Acts is showing us that God is reversing the curse of Babel.

Acts Chart v2.JPG

The sign of tongues was and is a sign that God is bringing unity, understanding and healing to a world divided by language, culture and race. This is good news for a world strained and still struggling with tensions due to race and culture. Pentecost teaches us three lessons the church needs to continually learn:

·         The Holy Spirit speaks all languages. Notice that the crowds didn’t hear Hebrew or Aramaic – they heard their own heart languages. It’s a sign that God doesn’t flatten out culture into one uniform culture. Instead, God will build the church from every nation, tribe and language. Our differences will enrich our eternal worship (see Rev. 7:9ff)

·         The Holy Spirit doesn’t only speak our language. The first church would struggle with the implications of Pentecost – that people do not have to become culturally Jewish to become Christians. We continue to struggle separating our cultural expressions of faith from gospel essentials. There are some things in every culture to challenge and change and some things in every culture to celebrate, affirm and learn from. We have to be vigilant and careful to make sure we never communication (in word or action) that to become a Christian means to convert to any particular culture.

·         We all need to learn a new language. What language does the Holy Spirit speak? He speaks about “the magnificent acts of God”. He speaks about the “greatness of God” (Acts 10:46). The gospel – God’s magnificent and great acts for broken sinners – is the language of the Spirit. His language is not the language of accusation, shame, guilt and condemnation. Healing, reconciliation and unity comes when people and churches are immersed and fluent in the Spirit’s tongue – the glory of God and His great love for us in Jesus.

3. THE HOLY SPIRIT… SENDS EVERYONE ON MISSION (2:14-21)

In Old Testament the Spirit’s filling and empowering was selective and temporary. At Pentecost, we see that the Holy Spirit not only sends the gospel to everyone regardless of race, language, gender; He also sends the gospel through everyone – regardless of age, gender or social status.

This is the main thrust of Peter’s reference to the prophet Joel – “all people”, “sons and daughters”, “young men and old men”, “servants, both men and women” will all be equipped to speak the language of the Spirit (i.e., prophesy). Though Peter took on a leadership role and the 12 apostles were witnesses in special way: the mission of the church was given to everyone (see 2:1 – they were all together. 2:3 Fire “rested on each one of them” and 2:4 “they were all filled”. Everyone is sent on mission.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1.       What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.      As John Stott wrote, “As a body without breath is dead, so the church without the Spirit is dead. “The Holy Spirit is the power and force that starts something new in our churches and lives. How does this encourage you? What questions do you have about this?

Is there a part of your life or your faith that feels lifeless and cold? Where do you need the breath and the fire of God in your life right now?

3.       How is racial and cultural misunderstanding continuing to impact our world/your life? What difference might the lessons of Pentecost (above) make when they are lived out in the church?  

4.      Do you struggle with an “inner language of condemnation, guilt, shame and accusation”? How so? How do we know this isn’t the language of the gospel or the Holy Spirt? [for further help on this question - Joel’s prophecy is not the only prophecy that was (and is being fulfilled) with the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. As a group, read Zephaniah 3:9-20. Zephaniah says God will teach the nations  a new speech. Using Zephaniah 3:9-20, how would you describe the language God is teaching the world?]

5.      How or where is the Spirt sending you on mission? (note – this most often means being “sent” to where we already are with fresh confidence in the Spirit’s power and work).

Blueprint #1 - The Foundation of the Church

READ – Acts 1:1-14  | THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH

The book of Acts covers 3o years of history that changed the world. It begins with a group of 120 people who believed Jesus rose from the dead and that this was the most significant event in history that changed everything. Acts shows us how this small group of people become a worldwide movement. It tells us the story of how the message of Jesus went viral across the ancient world. Churches began sprouting up everywhere. People from every background became followers of Jesus. How did this happen? Luke says it all happened as Jesus continued to act and to teach through the Spirit-empowered church (Acts 1:1). Acts is the story of how Jesus built the church; it’s the “original blueprint” of his design. Acts 1:1-14 shows the plans for the foundation of the church.

1. PROOF

The first foundation of the Christian faith and of the church is proof. The Christian faith is built on historical events that really happened. In Luke’s introduction to the book (1:1-4) he says, “After [Jesus] had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs”. The term here is term used often in Greek historiography when authors wanted to say “this really happened”. It’s the strongest term Luke could have used to communicate that, as hard as it is to believe, Jesus really and truly rose again from the dead.

The Christian faith (and therefore the church) is not about checking our brains at the door and abandoning reasoning, logic and the search for what is true and real. It is founded upon convincing proof, history, truth and things that really happened and are happening. The reason why Christianity should be believed and lived is not first because of its practical value, or its moral value or its emotional value but because it is true. Acts shows us this is the foundation of the foundation of the church. 

If Jesus is truly risen, alive and active, then building our lives and building a church is not all up to us.  He is at work in our present. He is acting and active in my life, in the church, in the world. This is first and most important truth which is the bedrock and basis for everything else in our faith, our lives and our church.

2. PROMISE

In addition to providing convincing proof to his disciples, Jesus also gave them instructions. “While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the father’s promise.” They were coming to grips with the truth that Jesus was really alive. They were wondering, “Now what? what do we do? What will You do?” And Jesus tells them to wait for the promise. Wait!?! Is there anything harder than being told to wait?

Jesus is teaching them a crucial two-fold lesson here at the foundation of the church: 1) God is a promise keeping God. 2) A promise always involves a waiting period. Jesus inserted 10 days of waiting here (between his Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit) to teach them (and us) that in times of waiting we will need to return to a firm and solid foundation – the promise of God.

One of the main themes of Acts is that God is a promise making and promise fulfilling God. He has fulfilled his promises in and through Jesus, He is and will continue to fulfill them in the church and He will one day bring them all to completion. When the disciples ask Jesus, “Is it time…?” They are asking whether the time of waiting is over.

Jesus gives them a “yes and no” answer. The promised restoration has begun in Jesus and but has not yet fully come.  We are promised the presence of Jesus and power for witness but much of life will still be characterized by waiting. But waiting is not wasted time. Times of waiting are not times when nothing is happening. Waiting is when God does some of his most important work. Waiting is one of main ways of He teaches us to build our lives (and our churches) on the reliable foundation of His promise.

3. PRAYER

When Jesus ascended (v9), the disciples were stuck standing and looking up into heaven and wondering, “Now what?” They decided to do the only thing they could do– they prayed. Before their “acts” could begin, they needed God to act first. As Eugene Peterson wrote, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.” They went back to Jerusalem and were “continually untied in prayer” (v14). This was not a 15-minute prayer session or something tacked on to the end of the real business of their meetings. This was the main business –10 days of waiting in prayer.

What were they praying? We aren’t told exactly but considering Jesus’ promise to them and his earlier teaching on prayer (see Luke 11:13), we can be certain that they were praying for the Holy Spirit. Acts shows us why the Holy Spirit is the best thing we can ask for and receive in prayer. Here’s how we can understand the work of the Holy Spirit:

#1 – The Holy Spirit takes the gospel (the reality/truth about Jesus) deeper into us – The Holy Spirt makes the objective truth about Jesus become subjectively real to us. The Spirit gives us tastes of the resurrection life to come. He assures us in the deepest parts of our soul that God is with us and for us because of Jesus.

#2 –The Holy Spirit takes the gospel (the reality/ truth about Jesus) out through us – The Holy Spirit empowers people who are afraid, reluctant and indifferent to the spiritual needs around them to be witnesses to the truth and power of the gospel.

Every significant gospel breakthrough in the book of Acts is preceded by prayer. Why might this be? When we feel powerless, helpless and unable to act, we are at the best place to for the gospel to go deeper in us and through us.  The gospel is that the saving power, the gracious help and the boundless ability of Jesus overflow and abound to those who bring their helplessness, powerlessness and inability to Him. Prayer is the simply our verbalized and expressed belief in our powerlessness, helplessness and inability. This is why prayer is the foundation on which Jesus builds a life and a church.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1.       What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.      Why might it be important for us to read Acts not first as the “Acts of the Apostles” but as “The Acts of Jesus” (i.e., what he continued to do and to teach, 1:1)?

3.       Do you agree that “proof” or “truth” is the foundation of the foundation of everything else we should build our lives on? How do you handle your questions and doubts when it comes to the truth of Christianity? How does the resurrection help during these times?

4.      Waiting is probably harder than ever in our instant technological age. Here’s what George Macdonald wrote about how God uses waiting in our lives: “He may delay because it would not be safe to give us at once what we ask: we are not ready for it. To give ere we could truly receive, would be to destroy the very heart and hope of prayer, to cease to be our Father. The delay itself may work to bring us nearer to our help, to increase the desire, perfect the prayer, and ripen the receptive condition.”

Where do you feel like you are currently in a “waiting period”? How might God be at work in your waiting?

5.      “Prayerlessness is a sign that we’ve forgotten the gospel. Prayerlessness is the practical expression of the belief that we have the power and ability to live life on our own and don’t need help.” Where do you most struggle with prayer? How might remembering the gospel convince us of our need for and the power of prayer?

6.      Where do you most need the gospel to go deeper in your life? Where do you sense God moving you outward? Share your responses with your group and pray that God would fill you, your group and our church with the Holy Spirit in a fresh and powerful way during our study of Acts 1-12.