Bible Lesson 6: Acts 9:31 – 12:25

Aim: Jew or Gentile, there is only one way: Jesus

Last week we saw the conversion of Saul, and what a turn around that was – from persecutor to preacher.  He saw the light.  We also heard that Saul was being given a mission, to help spread the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles – people that weren’t Jewish.  Now this caused quite a stir because the Jews were God’s chosen people, so was this going to be OK? Should they be invited, too?

So, as we begin to think about our lesson this week, picture this:  William and Kate (Prince/Princess) are coming to your town and throwing a huge party that lasts a really long time.  However, tickets to the event cost $1 bizzillion (a really, really big number).  Is there any way you can buy a ticket?  Is there anyway that anyone can pay that kind of price?  Probably not even the queen.  But, wait, they just announced that they are going to give away free tickets with only 3 requirements:

  1. You have to accept the gift of the ticket.  You can’t ignore it, or throw it away, or sell it, or anything like that.
  2. You have to come in through the front door only, the door that is opened by the host to let in his guests.  No trying to sneak in the back.
  3. While not a requirement, it is strongly suggested that you act grateful for this amazing gift.

That is how things are with God.  When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, He paid the price for all of our tickets.  And God wants everyone of us to accept that ticket and join the party.  But he gets very frustrated when someone shows up with a fake ticket that they tried to make on their own.  Or they try to sneak in some backdoor.

There is only one way into this party.  It doesn’t matter who you are, who your parents were or how much you work to make your own ticket.

Division 1: Acts 9:31-10:48

In chapter 9 we have 2 amazing stories of healing and prayer.  The power of the Holy Spirit is overflowing and as Peter travels outside of Jerusalem he is partaking in and witness the power of the Holy Spirit, not only in changed bodies, but in changed hearts and souls.  The first is the story of Aeneas, so crippled that he had stayed in bed for 8 years.  Then, with one blessing from God, he gets up and walks.  Are you saying, we’ve seen that before – ok, how about Dead Dorcas?  Her friends pray and talk about the gifts she has made and… back from the dead.

But in Acts 10, we get into the really interesting story of Peter and Cornelius.  Peter was a Jew.  Jesus came to the Jews.  And when you are a Jew you live as a Jew.  This isn’t a club, it is a way of life, every moment of every day.  You mess up one thing, touch a dead animal by accident, brush against someone with a skin disease, and you can be living outside of the city for days or weeks.

I’m going to talk about the blanket and food restrictions.  This meeting with Cornelius, in his house, eating and just how big of a deal that was.  But the whole time God was working on Peter, from the inside out, to help him see God’s love for all.

Principle: God welcomes all who believe

Illustration: Picture the gates of heaven.  In your mind, do you see a sign next to the door that says, Girls only, no boys allowed?  Or boys only?  Or only people with black hair allowed?  Of course not.  There is a big welcome mat saying all believers enter here.

Applications: Do you understand that God is bigger than skin tone, eye color, nationality or any other difference in humans?

Do you welcome into your church family people that don’t look, act or sound like you?  Do you call them brother and sister?

What “rules” are you expecting people to jump through because that is how you did it when you were a new believer?

Division 2: Acts 11

The jewish born christians are troubled by this new understanding that Peter has received and they have no issue speaking up about it.  Peter goes to Jerusalem, right to the heart of the discussion and lays out the facts.  In one verse (18) they understand, “so, then, that’s how it is.”  God said it, done deal.  Meanwhile, Antioch becomes a hotbed of God’s spirit, Barnabas is dispatched, joined by Saul and the new church gets its legs.

Principle: God’s word unites believers

Illustration:  Have you ever used the words, “Mom said” or “Dad says” or “the coach said to”?  When you are in a family or on a team, it is important to know who is in charge and calling the plays.  There is nothing wrong when you see someone heading a different direction to stop them and ask questions.  But when the direction comes from God, it is best to get on board.

Application: When you have an issue, do you go to the source or chitchat rumor about it?

When you understand that a direction is spelled out in the bible, do you accept it or still want to argue?

Division 3: Acts 12

King Herod (Agrippa), seeks to build his political cachet by imprisoning some of the heathen christians.  When that goes well, he murders James.  Seeing how well that is received he imprison Peter, with plans to kill him as well.

(retell story of the Peter in jail, shackled, 2 guards, sound asleep, freed by H/S, Rhoda, the church praying)

Finally, King Herod get eaten by worms and dies – yuck!

Principle: God sets us free of earthly confines

Illustration: (I’m sticking with Peter and this story)

Application:  If someone wanted to jail the christians, would they know you were one?

What are you losing sleep over?

Do you believe it when God answers your prayers?

What are you shackled to that God needs to set you free from?  Past sins?  Current guilt?  Worry? Fear? Secrets?

Conclusion: In all that is happening, don’t miss the skill movement of the master’s hand in everything that is happening.  I was reading an article on grand masters at chess.  It pointed out that if you take any chess game, at any point in the game, and for less 2 seconds show the board to a master.  They can go to another board and place every piece in place, where a non-chess player is doing good to get 3-4 pieces.  God not only knows this board that we live on, He created it, and He is the Master of All.

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Acts: Week 5, Day 6

Acts 9:31–12:25.

15. I am learning from these lessons that the more I give up to God the more I receive in power and peace.  It has made me question why I tend to hold onto stuff until it is simply too much to bear and, then finally, I relent it to God.  It sounds insane, but it is like I am trying to impress God with my ability to take care of stuff.  I know… when I think about it, it doesn’t make sense to me either.  The story this week of Peter, the night before his “trial” and probably execution is chained to two guards, on a prison floor, sleeping like a baby.  It makes me think about all of the times I wake up in the middle of the night or can’t sleep.  My prayer is to remind myself of these lessons.  God wants a humble heart, a heart that He will fill up with the power of the spirit and give peace in the midst of whatever is happening.

Acts: Week 5, Day 5

Acts 12.

Summary:

The apostle James is martyred by King Herod for political favor with the Jews. 

Peter is arrested and jailed, pending passover.  The church prays.  An angel appears and frees Peter from bondage and takes him out of the jail, past a number of guards.

Peter knocks on the door of the house where many are praying.  Rhoda recognizes his voice and is too excited to open the door.  Peter is let in, asks them to spread the word, then leaves.

Commotion ensues.  Herod orders search for Peter and executes the guards. 

Tyre and Sidon negotiate peace and bow to Herod.  He presents himself as a god, not a man, but dies that day and learns he was wrong.

But the word of God continued to increase and spread.  Barnabas and Saul are joing by Mark.

Questions:

13. I saw 3 different lessons:

  • James died.  As we read these biblical stories it is important to remember that this is real.  In the movies main characters such as one of the sons of Thunder, who had been with Jesus at so many critical moments, aren’t murdered for political favor.  No matter what some modern day prosperity preachers may lead people to believe, the bible does not promise believers an easy time, free of persecution and pain – at least not in this life!  But it does say we will be filled with Joy.
  • Peter slept.  The night before his trial and probable execution.  Shortly after the murder of one of his closest friends.  Shackled to not one but two guards, in prison behind 2 more sets of guards and an iron gate.  Peter was sound asleep.  Is there any better verse to show the the peace and joy these believers felt even in the midst of persectuation?
  • There is only one God.  Everyone else who thought themselves a god or was thought of by others as a god is dead or will die.  Only God is eternal.

Even through the valleys of life, the word of God continues to increase and spread.

14.

  • God gives great gifts.  When we think about it, what do we really want?  An easy time or amazing peace and joy in even the worst of situations? This level of peace and joy is only found in the gift of the spirit.
  • God is sovereign.  God is the king of kings but a king is never a god.

Conclusion:

I love the lessons in this chapter.  The tales of hardship and sadness combined with peace and joy.  The thought of Peter sound asleep, needing a whack on the side to wake up.  But through it all 2 verses really touch my heart. 

The first is 12:5 “but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”  Notice it isn’t a few ladies at the church or some people showed up for a prayer vigil.  It is “the church”.  What an amazing song that must make to God to have the entire body of believers on the earth united in earnest prayer.

The second is the story of Rhoda in versus 13-16.  It may stem from too many Mary Tyler Moore episodes in my youth (Rhoda Morgenstern), but I picture all of the people in the room with heavy Bronx accents (Like Mike Meyers on an SNL “coffee talk” skit).  Quiet Rhoda is all of a sudden bounding around the room jumping like a cheerleader while the people in the room kvetch, “the girl has lost her marbles. she’s crazy.”  And then the look on their faces when they open the door.  But the really funny and touching part to me is that, this is exactly what they were there praying for.  I catch myself doing that.  I pray earnestly to God.  He grants my prayer, and I am so shocked and amazed that God did it that I am, literally, in disbelief.

Final:

On a macabre note, you may have noticed Acts 12:23, “he was eaten by worms and died.”  At first I thought this meant he died and then decomposed, but upon further investigation I learned, it is what it says.  One of the way historians know who this King Herod was (Agrippa), since there are a number with the same name, is by note of his death. It is suspected that he had Fournier’s Gangrene consisting of necrosis of the perineum and genitalia.  In comparison, death by the sword doesn’t sound so bad at all!

Acts: Week 5, Day 4

Acts 11:19–30.

We pick up the story of the disciples scattering, beyond Judea and Samaria into the “ends of the earth.”  As they go, people believe.  In some areas just the Jews are converted, but in others Gentiles accept Christ as well.  Barnabas is dispatched to Antioch.  After spending time there he goes to Tarsus, hooks up with Saul and they partner in Antioch.  The church grows, prophets speak and the church at Antioch sends assistance to other churches (Judea).

11.

  • In Antioch, Greeks become christians (v20)
  • Barnabas dispatched to Antioch (22)
  • Barnabas partners with Saul (25, 26)
  • Church gets legs and reaches out to church in Judea (29,30)

12. v19, 20: They made disciples who made disciples

v21 The Lord’s hand was with them

v23 He saw evidence of the grace of God

Conclusion:

Really getting into the heart of this story today is so amazing and so insightful.  If you really try to put yourself there, in that time and place, can you imagine how overwhelming and confusing it must have seemed.  I sometimes feel lost and totally out of the loop at my church, can you imagine how the Apostles must have felt?

I can almost here them? What’s God doing?  Where?  Where is that anyway?  And who is he doing it with?  Is that even OK?  Good point, He is God, so it must be OK.  But what are we supposed to do?  What are they calling us now?  Christians?  Is that even OK?  Who is this guy making predictions?  Do we do that?

But, from our place and time we can see the finger of God carefully and simultaneously moving all of these different souls into place for His glory.  What an amazing God.

I’ll keep this in mind the next time I’m feeling lost or out of the loop!

Acts: Week 5, Day 3

Acts 10:1–11:18.

In Caesarea there was a Roman centurion named Cornelius who loved God and worked to honor Him through generosity and prayer.  An angel appears and tells him to send for Peter in Joppa.

Meanwhile, Peter on a rooftop in Joppa has a vision of a sheet being lowered and various animals presented to him to eat, including those who were “unclean” by the law of moses.  While pondering this vision, the 3 messengers from Cornelius arrive.

Peter and his entourage go to Caesarea and enter and dine with Cornelius, a fact that would have also been in violation of the law since Cornelius did not follow Jewish dietary law in the prep of food or even in the decoration of his home (prayer at the doorpost, etc.)

Peter receives the revelation of his vision – all belong to God: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Peter witnesses about Christ and, without any altar call at all, the entire household present receives the Holy Spirit with proof in the speaking of tongues.  Peter calls for them to be baptized.

Peter catches flack from Jews for extending the gift of the Holy Spirit to non-Jews.

 

5. a.  v2: “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly”

b. I believe others, particularly friends and family, see me as a man devoted to God.

6. (Challenge) Acts 10:9–18; Leviticus 17:10–14; Leviticus 11 Leviticus 20:25.

a. Unclean

b. Act 10:15 – God made it clean.  The price of sin was paid by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Mat 5:17: the law has been fulfilled

Rom 14:14-17: kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

7. a. 12: Get up, kill and eat; v15 do not call anything impure that God has made clean; v19 go with the men without hesitation

b. v21, the men were there; v22, A holy angel told him to have you come to his house

c. 33: we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us., 34: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism. 44: while still speaking the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message

8. Unquestioning obedience and humility to God’s direction.  He said go, they went.  The act of Cornelius, a centurion, bowing at Peter’s feet who was an outlaw, simply because God had directed him to this man, therefore this must be a man of honor in God’s kingdom.

9. (Challenge) no, it says who fear him and do what is right. 

  • The fear of the Lord is a gift of the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2)
  • Even the spies of the sanhedrin recognized that Jesus “taught what is right” Luke 20:21
  • Jesus is the only way (John 14:6)

 

10. To follow jewish law was akin to running a marathon.  Each step counted and you were in it for the distance.  And now, with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the advent of the Holy Spirit, there is a big banquet the runners are enjoying.  But how unfair it seems to them that these gentiles (non-runners) are showing up at the banquet.  They aren’t saying they can’t participate, they just want them to go run the race first. 

 

Conclusion: God’s patience and self constraint amazes me.  Sometimes he is very clear and exact with us and sometimes he presents us with a message in such a way that we have to take it in and steep in it for a while to really internalize the message. 

Last week we had God revealing specific instructions to Ananias, go to this house on Straight street, meet with this guy.  He couldn’t have been more clear if he had just plugged it into his calendar.  And even this week to Peter: go downstairs, there are 3 men looking for you, go with them, don’t hesitate.

I was doing some work with furniture this week and this story reminds me of it.  Think of it this way.  The specific directions God gives us are a lot like furniture cleaners.  You spray it on, you wipe it off – clean.  God says it, you do it – clean.  The less specific information God gives us is more like paint stripper.  You spray it on, wait for it to soak down in and get under the surface so that it works on cleaning from the inside out.

This is a major shift in reality for these jewish Christians: that they would now be dining with gentiles, associating with them as family, foregoing dietary law to spread the good news.  Peter is not a young man and he notes that he has never eaten something unclean.  This is a really big change.  Now, God could have told him and Peter probably would have followed.  But, God was so much wiser and more patient.  He revealed his message to Peter in such a way that it could soak down in and then work on changing Peter’s views and perceptions from the inside, rather than just on the surface.

Acts: Week 5, Day 2

Acts 9:31–43.

The church is at peace, with the Holy Spirit moving in great ways and the disciple live in the fear of the Lord.

Two examples of the strength and encouragement of the spirit to devoted believers are given:  the healing of Aeneas the paralytic and the raising of Tabitha in Dorcas.

3. a. Peace; strengthened and encouraged by H/S; grew in numbers; living in fear of the Lord

b. I can see the hand of God moving in so many ways in and around my life.  I can see him working in a recovery center in the urban core that teaches the only way to true recovery from addiction and the evils of this world is to turn it all over to God.  I can see him working in childrens’ hearts in our church and BSF.  I can see him using the devastation in Joplin to touch believers hearts all over and strengthen and encourage them through their work.  Seeing God work, to me, is peace.

c. I think we have to look at how evil tries to attack the church.  It does it most commonly, in my opinion, through wordly ways.  It uses debt to cause fear and worry and a burden.  It uses greed and desires for stature and power to corrupt or cause criticism.  But, while the church is comprised of a lot of broken parts (like me), when we form together and support each other then we form a powerful army for God.

4. The healings remind us of Christ’s infinite power and authority.

 

Conclusion:  In our modern world view, I think we are so quick to build walls in our lives.  “Well, I know Christ washes away my sin, but this is different, this is (name the ailment).  He can’t cure that.”  We pray that God will intervene and assist, but, are we bold?  Do we expect miracles.  Do we ask god to make a paralytic more comfortable or to cause him to walk?  We don’t have any issue recognizing Christ’s authority in spiritual matters, but physical healing, well, let’s be practical.

 Mat 9:5-6 reminds us that we have things upside down.  The more difficult task is to forgive our sins.  The power to heal our bodies with nothing but a word is only to remind us that he heals our soul through a much greater cost.

Acts: Week 5, Day 1

2.  There are some weeks I read the notes and something immediately pops out at me that challenges the way I had thought.  There is a new perspective or thought or information that I didn’t know before.  Other weeks, it is more like a marinate.  There isn’t one thing, but a slow working away at me that, I believe, is the message.  This is a marinating week.

In several places in the notes this week it discusses change.  The notes talked about closing and opening doors, disruption, displacement, removal from one place, new endeavors.  I don’t consider myself to be particularly change adverse.  I have a history of championing changes and improvements in work and the community.  But, spending some time thinking and praying about the message in the notes revealed how this isn’t particularly true in my view of church.  I’m one of those who grew up in the faith, so my memory of church is a source of comfort and stability.  No matter what goes on, how much changes and how confusing things get, I want that comfort that I could walk back into my old church in my old neighborhood and it would be exactly like it was.

But that isn’t the case, nor is it the message that God gives us in these passages.  Church is not supposed to be a place that serves as an old security blanket or teddy bear, that we can go back to regress to a happy time when life gets hard.  I don’t see much mention of God talking about church as a place at all.  In fact, as we read this past week, God purposefully causes the body of the church to be on the move and drastically changing.  He allowed the death of Stephen and the persecution at the hands of Saul to send people out of their comfortable spot into uncomfortable places and fearful situations.  Then he grabs the most zealous persecutor and brings him in, much to the disbelief even of the 12 apostles 3 years later.

Does God want us to be in turmoil where everything is changing and we can’t even count on the church (or BSF) to stay the same – leaving us feeling like we don’t have any stable place to stand and no safe place to go back to?  Not exactly.  Here is what I’m learning as I reread the notes and pondered the message:

  1. God desires perfection.  I am not perfect.  You are not perfect.  My old house or neighborhood or school is not perfect.  My kids are not perfect.  The church is not perfect.  The earth is not perfect.  Therefore all of those things must change.  For God to leave these things, which he loves, as they are or were, would be for Him to leave them broken.  That isn’t love, that is selfishness, and while I may crave that, it is not God’s character.  With that in mind, of course they are going to change.
  2. God gives us a rock to stand on: Himself and His Word.  God is unchanging.  The scripture is complete.  All other ground is shifting sand, but this is the rock that cannot be shaken.

I pray that God continues to teach me to rely only on Him and His Word and to not look for stability to come from other sources.  I also pray that He is gentle with me in that process.  I know it says He won’t give us more than we can bear, but some days I like the idea of not bearing too much.  I also pray that when I walk into a situation where things feel odd and different and uncomfortable because they aren’t the way I want them or remember them that he would send me a Barnabas.  Sometimes we all need that person to wrap their arm around our shoulder and help us see God in all the uncomfortable change that is occurring around us.  To remind us that God is in control and has a plan and, as scary as it may be, we need to trust His plan and be in fellowship of it, even if we don’t yet have a clue what it is.