Monday, May 30, 2016

Extraordinary

My Life Group lesson for May 29, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

So who here has a Fitbit or something like it?

How many steps per day do you try to reach?

Does it matter how you get there? Running or moseying?

Our Christian walk is the same. We try to get in a full 10,000 steps before we are called to heaven, finish the race, as Paul wrote.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Acts 12:1-25

*** This is our final lesson for the spring and the first 12 chapters of the book of Acts.

*** Chapter 12 is the last record in Acts of the followers in Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a shift to recording the ministry of Paul.

*** Chapter 12 begins with growing persecution by Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great who was king when Jesus was born and ordered the infants killed in Bethlehem. Herod Agrippa was brought up in Rome and made king in Judea and surrounding territories by Gaius the emperor.

He ruled as king of the region from A.D. 41 to 44 and sought favor with the Jewish leaders by going after Christians, including the execution of James, brother of John.

This was the first recorded instance of persecution from secular authorities. Before it had been from Jewish leaders.

*** Peter was arrested next and scheduled for execution following Passover. But God ...

DELIVERANCE (Acts 12:7-10)

7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” Then the chains fell off his wrists. 8 “Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did so. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what took place through the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they passed the first and second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went outside and passed one street, and immediately the angel left him.

*** A supernatural Get Out Of Jail Free card.

--- It's the middle of the night, Peter’s scheduled to be killed, sleeping between two soldiers.

--- Sleeping soundly, it appears, since he’s half-asleep as all this happens. Which in itself is astounding since he was about to be put on show trial and killed.

--- An angel appears to Peter, divinely removes the chains, tells Peter to put on his sandals and leads him right out of jail, with the guards none the wiser.

--- The Roman guards were ready for traditional opposition with weapons, but that’s not how the early church reacted to persecution. They knew they had a higher power in the Lord who could flick off shackles and ignore locked doors.

--- God can deliver us physically and spiritually from all forms of bondage.

*** When God's People Pray. (“And take the pains of earth to the doors of heaven” … “There is hope reborn, there is sin forgiven. And miracles you can't explain away.”)

--- While Peter was in prison he was benefiting from the prayers offered on his behalf from the church.

---The faithful prayers of God’s people combined with the will of God resulted in Peter’s deliverance.

--- It's easy to scoff at prayer and think, "If God's will is done, what does it matter if I pray?" But the Bible makes clear, prayer matters.

--- When Christians hear of persecution or suffering by Christians in our world today, we should pray, knowing that our prayers make a difference. We cannot enter the countries or prisons where many believers today are held, but we can pray for them.

--- We should also note that it's not always God's will to deliver his faithful servants from harm, as we saw with early martyrs Stephen, then James.

--- God has different plans for different lives. The death of James and the deliverance of Peter both accomplished God’s purposes for their lives.

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

DELIGHT (Acts 12:11-12, 16-17)

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. ... 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. 17 Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. “Report these things to James and the brothers,” he said. Then he departed and went to a different place.

Amy Grant sang all about this in her song "Angels:"

"Take this man to prison," the man heard Herod say
And then four squads of soldiers came and carried him away
Chained up between two watchmen, Peter tried to sleep
But beyond the walls an endless prayer was lifting for his keep
Then a light cut through the darkness of a lonely prison cell
And the chains that bound the man of God just opened up and fell
And running to his people before the break of day
There was only one thing on his mind, only one thing to say..."

*** "He's got His angels watching over me, every move I make."

--- Once Peter snapped out of his sleepy angelic stupor did he realize the miracle that had just happened.

--- Peter notes that God freed him through supernatural means.

--- He then heads to a home where Christians were praying for him.

--- John Mark was a relative of Barnabas and would soon play a major role in the first international mission (Acts 12:25). John Mark was also the author of the Gospel of Mark.

--- This shows how important it is for believers to assemble as the body of Christ.

*** Guess who!

--- Even though the servant girl Rhoda ran to tell everyone the good news, no one believed that Peter was really there, so Peter had to stand outside for a few minutes until the gate was unlocked.

--- They likely prayed that God would help Peter during his impending trial. They could not imagine that God would take him from the prison and release him miraculously.

--- Peter thought he was dreaming and his friends were astounded, because even as we pray for miracles we're still amazed by what we think is impossible.

--- Peter’s deliverance was again a testimony to the power of faith and God’s grace.

--- We can be thankful that God’s willingness to answer our prayers is not always limited by our faith.

*** Go tell it on the mountain.

--- Peter’s comment to tell James and his brothers is a reference to James the brother of Jesus.

--- From here Peter would depart Jerusalem to an unknown place and James would take leadership of the church there.

*** Question - What makes people skeptical of God working in an unexpected way? How would you feel if you knew people were gathered together praying for you?

DISTURBANCE (Acts 12:18-19)

18 At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19 After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

*** You had one job.

--- Roman practice was that soldiers who lost their prisoners were subject to the same penalty due to the prisoners. (Wonder if they drew straws to decide who got to tell Herod of their failure?)

--- Herod wouldn’t have seen a supernatural explanation for Peter’s escape any more than Pharaoh allowed for God to get credit for the plagues, so he would assume someone was helping him or of sleeping on the job, literally and figuratively.

--- Herod, therefore, executed those who were supposed to watch Peter.

--- Notice that no one realized Peter wasn’t there until daylight, giving Peter plenty of time to get out of town.

*** Peter’s ministry.

--- Following the death of Herod not long after this, Peter returned to Jerusalem (Acts 15:7). Peter later produced two epistles (1 and 2 Peter), and the early church historian Eusebius credited Peter as the primary source of information for Mark’s Gospel.

--- Jesus had predicted that Peter would be killed when he was old (John 21:18-19).

--- Tradition says that Peter was executed during Nero’s reign about A.D. 64, and crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy of crucifixion in the same position as Jesus.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Adrian Rogers tells of a little boy who was trying to roll a rock as his father watched from a distance.

The boy was trying his hardest, but he couldn’t turn the stone over.

His dad said, “Son, are you using all of your strength?”

The boy said, “Yes, Daddy, I’m using all my strength.”

And the father said, “No, you’re not, because you haven’t asked me to help you. My strength is your strength.”

Sometimes we wrestle with problems and say, “I don’t know what to do.” Our Heavenly Father wants us to say, “I’ve run out of my strength,” and run to His.

There is no problem too big for Jesus to solve.

We’ve seen in our study of the first 12 chapters in Acts that there were many attempts by religious and secular powers to halt the progress of the early church.

All of them ultimately failed because of the power and will of God. In fact, we saw where every time the gospel was advanced and the church grew.

No matter what your circumstances are, you can rest assured that God is at work.

God often uses our dire circumstances to work in an extraordinary way for the advancement of the gospel.

Some Christian leaders suffer martyrdom while others experience miraculous deliverance. James died by the sword, while Peter was delivered from prison.

If you’ve never met resistance, ask yourself why. Is it because you aren’t openly sharing your belief in Jesus Christ and looking for opportunities to witness to others? Or, is it because you stay in your comfort zone without opposition?

All of these events can encourage us to be just as bold in our witness as the early Christians were.

We can be encouraged that our efforts are always accompanied by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

*** Pray specifically and with purpose for someone this week. “Pray for God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.” (Bobby Richardson, former NY Yankees 2B)

*** When we pray, remember:

--- The love of God that wants the best for us.
--- The wisdom of God that knows what is best for us.
--- The power of God that can accomplish it.
(William Barclay, Prodigals and Those Who Love.)

*** Share with someone who needs encouragement, tell them about how God has been extraordinary in your life.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Accepting: Breaking Down Barriers

My Life Group lesson for May 22, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

It has been said that “good fences make good neighbors,” which goes back to a Robert Frost poem called “Mending Wall.”

Question - Do you spend most of your time on your front porch welcoming the world, or in your backyard in isolation?

Do you feel like you spend less time getting to know your neighbors today than when you were growing up?

Why do you think we are less likely to hang out with our neighbors nowadays?

We may build a fence for privacy, for protection or just decoration.

But some walls of separation become barriers that keep us from people and things we don’t like.

North and South Korea are separated by two miles of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and 60 years of history following the Korean War.

Because of the freedoms enjoyed by the South and the poverty and repression in the North, North Koreans are up to three inches shorter than those in the South. The average South Korean woman is now about the same height as the average North Korean man.

East and West Berlin, Germany, were separated for nearly 40 years by the Berlin Wall. During that time the West flourished economically while ten feet away the people in the East were under the boot of communism.

25 years later there are still differences. Of the 500 richest Germans, only 21 are in the east and, of those, 14 are in Berlin. Of the 20 most prosperous cities, only one is in the east.

It has even affected their spiritual lives. Communism does not allow for real religion, and three-quarters of East Germans do not belong to a religious community, while three-quarters of West Germans do.

Today’s lesson deals with God helping Peter overcome a barrier to reach more people to Christ.

We have to tear down some walls to share the gospel to different cultures and backgrounds.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Acts 10:1–11:30

*** The apostles had broken down the barriers with Samaritans, and now in order for The Great Commission to truly extend beyond Judea, Jewish believers had to understand God’s will for the inclusion of Gentiles in the church.

*** In Acts 10:1-8 we meet a Roman centurion named Cornelius who is said to be god-fearing and generous .

--- Cornelius has a vision from the Lord telling him to send messengers to Joppa to get Peter.

*** Peter’s been spending time in Joppa after bringing Tabitha/Dorcas back from the dead.

--- We’ll see today that Peter also receives a vision from God.

*** When Peter and Cornelius get together it would change the shift of Christianity and break down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles.

THE VISION (Acts 10:9-15)

9 The next day, as they were traveling and nearing the city, Peter went up to pray on the housetop about noon. 10 Then he became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he went into a visionary state. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. 12 In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” 14 “No, Lord!” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything common and ritually unclean!” 15 Again, a second time, a voice said to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call common.”

*** The Hunger Games.

--- Peter was hungry, both physically and spiritually.

--- How many of us, when we’re super hungry, go pray instead of hovering in the kitchen asking when it will be done?

--- While he was praying, Peter had a vision from God.

*** Eat your veggies!

--- We have trouble breaking down barriers to eat foods we don’t like (fish heads, anyone?).

--- For Peter it was even more serious, and he was unwilling to violate the Old Testament laws that prohibited eating unclean animals.

--- These ceremonial laws had been set up to show their holiness and fulfilling them meant salvation.

--- There were different types of laws. The moral laws of God found in the Mosaic Law were unchangeable, such as those dealing with sexual morality, speaking truth, and honoring parents. They are rooted in the nature of God that does not change.

--- But the ceremonial laws about food were a major reason Jews and Gentiles were set apart. Jews wouldn’t go into a Gentile’s home because they considered them unclean.

--- This would be a sticking point when it came to getting Jewish and Gentile Christians to break down that wall and find fellowship in the early church.

--- God’s telling Peter here that the old ways are gone.

--- In the new era, both Jews and Gentiles are declared “clean” through Christ, not by their works.

--- Jesus had already indicated as much in Mark 7:14-23: “Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” such as “evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess,[d] blasphemy, pride, and foolishness.” (Mark 7:21-22)

--- Just as the dietary laws no longer apply, there’s no reason to reject anyone who seeks to be part of the family in Christ. ALL are welcome.

--- Peter protested at first, maybe because he did not understand these distinctions at the time of his vision, but he would soon learn the radical implications of what he saw and heard.

--- Of course, he also just touched an unclean dead Tabitha to raise her from the dead, so he was already on the right road.

(As a Gentile I'm thankful that Peter no doubt discovered the awesomeness that is ham and bacon, he also discovered the value of Gentiles in the new Christian world.)

*** Question - In what way might the early church have been impacted if God had allowed Peter to dismiss the heavenly vision?

THE DECLARATION (Acts 10:43-46a)

43 All the prophets testify about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.” 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46a For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God.

*** The Odd Couple.

--- Immediately after Peter’s vision, the messengers sent by Cornelius arrived at the house where Peter was staying and urged him to accompany them to Caesarea.

--- Peter finally understands the vision he received.

--- Peter knew that the Holy Spirit wanted him to share the gospel with Cornelius and to embrace Gentiles like Cornelius who believed in Jesus as Savior.

*** "The Gentile Pentecost."

--- Peter’s sermon to those with Cornelius was his first chance to preach to a primarily Gentile audience.

--- Peter made clear that the Old Testament prophets all pointed to Jesus as the savior for everyone, not just Jews and works.

--- Amazingly and supernaturally, the Holy Spirit descends on those in the room, just as at Pentecost, and the Gentiles begin speaking other languages.

--- The Jews who had come with Peter and still had doubts about welcoming these “Gentile believers” were flabbergasted and couldn’t doubt any longer that this is what God wanted.

--- Mentioning that these were "circumcised" believers foreshadows an equally major barrier in the early church, since the Gentiles were uncircumcised.

--- Circumcision served as the symbol of God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and for Jewish Christians was difficult to accept this change.

--- God can even change those who are not culturally like us, despite our prejudices and expectations.

THE ACCEPTANCE (Acts 10:46b-48)

46b Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.

*** (“I put my hand upon your hip”) When you dip I dip we dip. (With apologies to Freak Nasty. “)

--- After Peter's vision and now the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentile believers, Peter had all the proof he needed to treat them equally as brothers in Christ.

--- Peter then calls for them to be baptized, a mark of entrance into the church community.

--- It's not required for salvation but it is an outward sign of God’s work in their hearts and their personal faith in Jesus Christ.

*** The walls came down.

--- Cornelius’s conversion was the launching pad of the expansion of the gospel from the Jew to the Gentile.

--- This opened the door even further for the church’s growth and demonstrated God’s love that is freely offered to all.

*** Question – Who in our world might we exclude from sharing the gospel?

--- The walls that exist today may be different, but they are nonetheless real. These walls might be based on race, education, social position, or cultural background.

SUMMARY

Have you ever changed your opinion on an issue you felt strongly about?

In the news lately, the owners of a vegan restaurant in Northern California have received death threats and faced a boycott after angry customers learned the owners started eating meat again.

Matthew and Terces Engelhart were vegetarians for nearly 40 years, but decided to return to eating meat after leaving San Francisco and starting a farm about 55 miles away in Vacaville. They started with eggs and cheese from the farm's chickens and cows. Then, after one old cow had to be put down, they decided it made sense to incorporate meat into their diets as well.

The couple is now being inundated with messages on social media forums criticizing them as "flesh eaters" and calling them hypocrites for owning vegan restaurants but eating meat at home.

In today’s lesson the issue was about far more than diet. God meant for Peter to learn an important lesson about acceptance.

In a similar way, there were people in Peter’s day who didn’t think the gospel should be shared with the Gentiles.

Acts 11:1-18 provides an epilogue to the story.

When Peter returned to Jerusalem, Jewish believers were miffed. They weren’t happy that Peter was associating with Cornelius and Gentiles.

Peter explained his vision from God and the Gentile Pentecost.

The evidence convinced the Jewish Christians that God had accepted the Gentiles, and their faith results in everlasting life the same as they had.

The issue wasn’t over, but it was clear that God was tearing down the walls separating Jewish and Gentile believers.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** (1) Jesus saves all. Romans 10:13 - For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

*** (2) To reach everyone who needs to hear the Word we have to go beyond our cultural comfort zone and be open to all who believe.

*** (3) Take the initiative to expand your relationships at church and through your group. Reach out to those who may feel excluded.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bold

My Life Group lesson for May 15, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

This weekend we started off with a couple of duels featuring weapons that weren’t exactly fair for a fight, kind of like Indiana Jones taking down the swordsman with a pistol in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

We're much more confident when we know we have the weapons we need.

Knowing we have the power of God behind us can make us bold when it comes to sharing the gospel. It can help us to push aside a culture that is negative towards Christianity.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Acts 9:32-43

*** We last saw Peter in Acts 8 when he was in Samaria with Philip. Peter then moved to the coastal towns, including Lydda, the district capital of Samaria.

*** In 9:32-35 Luke records Peter healing a paralyzed man in the name of Jesus, bringing glory and attention to the gospel.

*** Peter then moves to Joppa, where a cherished disciple had died. Another miracle was on the way!

THE FINAL REST (Acts 9:36-39)

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. She was always doing good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became sick and died. After washing her, they placed her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples heard that Peter was there and sent two men to him who begged him, “Don’t delay in coming with us.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them. When he arrived, they led him to the room upstairs. And all the widows approached him, weeping and showing him the robes and clothes that Dorcas had made while she was with them.

*** A graceful gazelle.

--- You might recognize Joppa as the port on the Mediterranean Sea from which Jonah sailed while running away from God. (Jonah 1:3)

--- Her name Tabitha in Aramaic is translated as "Dorcas" in Greek, and both mean "gazelle."

--- She was a female disciple known for "always" doing "good works" and "acts of charity."

--- That's a great way to be described as being bold in your Christian life.

--- Showing acts of grace by meeting the needs of others is just as important as proclaiming the message we speak.

--- She notable for helping widows, such as making clothes. (v. 39)

*** Tabitha's appointed time.

--- Unfortunately we see in verse 37 that Tabitha died after an unknown illness. (Living a godly life is no guarantee of a long life.)

--- Instead of moving her body for burial, her household placed her on the second floor.

--- The washing of the body was not unusual, but the delay in preparing the body for burial was. Typically the body would be prepared with spices, wrapped in a burial shroud, and taken to the place of burial within 24 hours to avoid the odor of decomposition.

--- The death of this outstanding Christian woman must have brought tremendous grief to the church in Joppa. So much so that they delayed her burial and ran to find Peter miles away, having faith for a miracle.

*** Peter comes as called.

--- Peter was in Lydda, ten miles from Joppa, when he got word of Tabitha's death.

--- Peter responds immediately, surely praying along the way for God's will to be done.

--- The disciples were willing to be used at any time in any place. (Remember a couple of weeks ago Philip had the same reaction when an angel told him to head south on a mystery mission.)

--- When Peter arrived in Joppa he was taken to see Tabitha and the widows testified to her ministry.

--- We don't know if they expected her to be raised from the dead or just wanted comfort from the leader of the church.

*** Question - Why is it important for believers to be willing to adjust their lives, as Peter did, to help others in Jesus’ name? What can hinder one’s willingness?

THE RESTORATION (Acts 9:40-41)

40 Then Peter sent them all out of the room. He knelt down, prayed, and turning toward the body said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her stand up. Then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive.

*** The power of God.

--- Peter asks everyone to clear out. (Surely with all those widows there was a lot of crying and sniffling, and Peter wanted to focus.)

--- Sound familiar? All of this parallels Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead in Luke 8:40-56, including someone dear passing, being told of it from afar, rushing to the scene to perform a miracle in God's glory.

--- Also in a similar way Jesus sent mourners from the room of Jairus’s daughter, allowing only the parents and select disciples to remain (Mark 5:40; Luke 8:51).

*** Praying Peter.

--- Peter kneels in prayer before turning to Tabitha.

--- This is important. Peter didn’t raise her from the dead. God did. If Peter hadn’t prayed first, do you think she would have popped up?

--- The temptation would be for Peter to think that he's doing these miracles and getting pats on the back and feeling important. But he knows it's not him. It's Jesus.

*** Question – Why do people sometimes confuse miracles with something else that eliminates God from the equation?

THE RESULTS (Acts 9:42-43)

42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And Peter stayed on many days in Joppa with Simon, a leather tanner.

*** Do you believe in miracles?

--- What's your favorite miracle in the Bible? (Parting of the Red Sea, burning bush, raising of the dead, sun stays up longer, etc.)

--- Has anyone wondered why miracles don't seem as obvious or frequent as in Acts?

--- Nowadays we call anything a miracle. Maybe that's because we don't seem to see it as much as during the early church. Or we credit ourselves, our scientists, our doctors, for God's miracles.

--- Of course, many saw Jesus perform miracle after miracle and still weren't convinced.

--- God still does miracles today.

--- If we only see the miracle then we miss half the message. We have to see the purpose behind the miracle.

--- The Lord used this miracle to open a door for Peter to share the gospel.

--- Just as Tabitha’s life pointed others to Jesus, her resurrection prompted many to believe.

--- In our studies of the book of Acts we've seen numerous examples of how the numbers of believers grew after each instance that God's glory is shown through miracles, signs and adversity.

--- The faith of current believers would be strengthened, too, and Tabitha's testimony would be incredible.

*** Simon the tanner.

--- By staying with Simon Peter would have to be in the same household as unclean animals.

--- Jews believed tanning to be an unclean profession because it involved contact with dead animals (Lev. 5:2).

--- The gospel was breaking down barriers between people.

--- In a vision in Acts 10 Peter is told by God that the ritual laws of Judaism no longer apply.

*** Question - Where have you seen barriers broken down to share Jesus' message?

SUMMARY

When Peter got to Tabitha’s home the first thing he did was pray before going to her. There was probably a lot of prayer going on in the household as well.

This week at work we had a news story about a report in which peopled were polled about prayer and health.

It found that 80 percent of people surveyed have prayed for their own healing. And 90 percent say they’ve prayed for someone else’s health.

The author of the report said he expected high numbers but the results still blew him away.

I was a little shocked that the professor was shocked. It’s not like people haven’t been praying for the sick for thousands of years.

So does this mean people think prayer works? Or it couldn’t hurt? Or just makes everyone feel better?

Of course, when God chooses not to use his power to heal our bodies, we must still trust in His will. And like Tabitha, the death of our loved ones also presents opportunities to share the gospel.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Boldness in life and the power of God work to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

*** Boldness is often frowned upon in our culture, but it shows that we are confident in the truth.

*** Miracles are awesome, but we don't need them to share Jesus as much as how we live our lives testifies to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cooper and Penny having fun at Mammaw Margie's ...

Monday, May 02, 2016

Obedient

My Life Group lesson for May 1, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Growing up, what’s the most disobedient thing you’ve done?

Or, what have your own kids done?

What makes us disobey? What keeps us from doing so more often?

Today we’re going to learn about a time when God used the obedience of Philip to lead an Ethiopian to touch the life of someone with the gospel.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Acts 8:4-40

*** In Acts chapter 7 Stephen is stoned and becomes the first Christian martyr.

*** As Acts chapter 8 begins, persecution of believers becomes widespread. Believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria as Saul began dragging men and women to prison.

(Another way to think about it: Jesus said that the Word had to spread around the region and then the world, but so far the apostles and believers were hanging out near Jerusalem. Without the killing of Stephen and the persecution of Christians the Gospel wouldn't have traveled far and wide as quickly.)

*** Instead of hiding, "Those who were scattered preached the word wherever then went," (v. 4) including Philip, who first went to Samaria and preached and performed signs and miracles.

--- The fact that Philip chose to go to Samaria to preach was a big deal. To put it lightly, the Jews were not fans of the Samaritans. This had been going on for hundreds of years, since the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians. But Jesus specifically told followers to carry the gospel to them before He ascended. (Acts 1:8)

--- While he was in Samaria, Philip encountered a magician named Simon who was jealous of Philip’s supernatural power to heal. Philip credited the Holy Spirit. Simon even made a profession of faith. But when Simon offered to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter severely rebuked him and declared him to be still in the bondage of sin. Simon asked to be forgiven and requested that Peter pray for him.

COMPELLED TO SEEK (Acts 8:26-29)

26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”

*** On the road again.

--- Philip was in Samaria when an angel told him to pack up and head about 16 miles south to Gaza, once one of the five principal cities of ancient Philistia (see 1 Sam. 6:17). It was a coastal town located about three miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. In Philip’s day it marked the location of the last oasis on the road leading south to Egypt.

--- Philip immediately obeys and heads south.

*** Ethiopia? You mean that poor place with the starving kids?

--- That’s pretty much the stereotype today, but the area has a rich history related to Israel.

--- Although, we’re talking about what’s called the Cush region in the Old Testament (named after one of Noah’s grandsons; Moses’ wife was a “Cushite woman”), also known as the kingdom of Nubia, south of Egypt and not quite where we find the Ethiopia of today.

--- Candace was not the personal name but the title of the queen (as “Pharaoh” was the title of Egyptian rulers).

*** What’s a “eunuch?”

--- This word refers to either a castrated man who oversaw royal harems (hence the emasculation) (Esther 2:3) and later important government officials. In this case, the Ethiopian was in charge of the royal treasury and therefore a high official.

--- He traveled by chariot, indicating his importance.

*** Reading from Isaiah.

--- The Ethiopian went to Jerusalem to worship, so he feared God.

--- As he went by Philip he was reading from the book of Isaiah.

--- The Holy Spirit tugged at Philip and told him to join him.

--- The Holy Spirit gave Philip a clear call to seek an opportunity to share the gospel. Opportunities to share the gospel are all around us. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s call and the situations in which we find ourselves, as well as being open to share at any moment.

An angel told Philip where to go, but it was up to Philip to actually do it. (Proverbs 16:3 – “Commit your activities to the LORD, and your plans will be achieved.”)

*** When has the Holy Spirit ever tugged at you to do something in the service of God? Did you obey? (Did you find that God had already laid it out for you as he did for Philip?)

PREPARED TO SHARE (Acts 8:30-31,35)

30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. […] 35 So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.

*** Wait for me!

--- In obedience, Philip runs to the Ethiopian.

--- The eunuch says he can’t understand who the passage he’s reading is about.

--- The verses from Isaiah that the Ethiopian was trying to understand was Isaiah chapter 53, specifically verses 7 and 8 that refer to the suffering and sacrifice of the coming Messiah:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so He does not open His mouth. 33 In His humiliation justice was denied Him. Who will describe His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.”

--- How perfect was that? It’s like the ball was already teed up and Philip just needed to swing away.

“Oh, you want me to explain the chapter in the Old Testament that most directly points to Jesus as our Savior? Absolutely!”

(If the Ethiopian had been reading the passage about the Lord’s mercy to eunuchs (Is. 56:3–5; cf. Deut. 23:1), it would have been natural for him also to read Is. 53.)

--- Since Philip knew the Scriptures, he was equipped to share his faith. You don’t need formal training in ministry, but knowing the Word makes it a lot easier to be used.

--- This is why it’s so important that we know the Bible, so that when the chance comes, we are ready to connect the dots for the lost. Today, especially, a lot of people know next to nothing about what’s actually in the Bible.

--- Philip was able to point out to the Ethiopian how this passage connects to Jesus, and in fact, how the entire Bible points to Him.

*** Question - What different approaches have you used or seen in sharing the gospel with people from differing religious or cultural backgrounds?

FOCUSED ON SALVATION (Acts 8:38-39)

38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer. But he went on his way rejoicing.

*** The Holy Ghost dip.

--- Not only did God plan this out for Philip to run into the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza, but God did so knowing that even in this desert region they’d have a random pond or lake nearby for baptism.

--- The Lord commands a public confession of faith in Jesus as our Savior, and baptism by immersion is the way to follow that up.

(Not sprinkling or pouring water on your head. The Greek verb here refers to immersion of ships, and the fact that Philip used a lake here and not water on the chariot is telling.)

--- Paul would later write that the symbolism of baptism depicts our death, burial, and resurrection through faith in Christ (Rom. 6:3-4).

--- After the baptism Philip was “carried away,” and the Greek verb does suggest a literal supernatural transportation. Philip had other things to do, and right away!

--- Jesus said to proclaim his Word to ALL people to the ends of the earth. God used Philip to reach this Ethiopian, who as an important official would share the good news of the gospel with all others and watch Christianity spread beyond the Middle East and Roman Empire.

--- The Ethiopian went away rejoicing! Conversion and baptism are joyous instances that should be celebrated! Rejoicing is the only appropriate response to finding salvation in Christ.

*** What was your experience after salvation and baptism?

SUMMARY

Just as Philip had to be obedient in the direction that the Lord was leading him to share the gospel, so also the Ethiopian would be challenged to demonstrate his obedience in the practice of baptism.

There are people whom God has placed in our path so that we can share the good news with them.

There are a lot of barriers to overcome to share Jesus with others. Use Philip’s example in how to overcome these barriers.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** We must be constantly ready to share the gospel and provide an opportunity for those with whom we are sharing to respond.

*** We must also be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in all situations and allow the Spirit to lead us in our sharing.

*** Conversion and baptism are joyous instances that should be celebrated! Rejoicing is the only appropriate response to finding salvation in Christ.