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Explore the Bible Series

June 8, 2008

 

Background Passage: Acts 3:1-5:42

Lesson Passage: Acts 4:5-10, 12-12, 18-20, 31-35

 

Introduction: This section of Acts will seem somewhat alien to modern American readers.  I ask that you consider these two points.

 

  1. The power of the early church:  The events recorded in these chapters have no human explanation.  God was at work in ways that could only be explained in supernatural terms.  For years I have prayed and pleaded that churches seek this kind of heavenly power.  Frankly, most of what happens in our churches can be attributed to careful planning, human strategies and devices, and powerful, charismatic personalities.  O, that God might rest heavy upon our churches, active in such ways that only he will get the glory.
  2. Persecution is the norm for God’s people:  Perhaps the power of God comes only in the environment of harsh persecution.  Secular men hate what they cannot control, and the First-Century Jewish leaders could not effectively resist, try as they might, the power of God that rested on these disciples. 

 

Perhaps we should look for these two marks of the early church: power and persecution.  These seem to be the hallmarks of the true people of God.

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   The Healing of the Lame Man (3:1-26)

A.    The setting of the miracle (vv. 1-2): Peter and John continued to observe the Jewish hours of prayer, and they arrived at the Temple about three o’clock in the afternoon.  As they entered the Gate Beautiful (one of nine gates that entered the Temple area), the two apostles encountered a lame beggar.  Luke, the beloved physician, pointed out that the man was infirmed from birth.

B.     The apostles’ ministry to the lame man (vv. 3-10): The beggar asked Peter and John for alms, but Peter commanded the man to arise, and, lifting the man by the hand, Peter instructed the beggar to walk. The infirmed man rose to his feet, walked about, leaped for joy, and began to praise God. The commotion drew the attention of the crowd, and, realizing what had happened to the lame man, the masses marveled at the miracle.

C.     Peter’s sermon (vv. 11-26)

1.      the power of God and the healing of the lame man (vv. 11-16): Peter did not take credit for healing the man; rather, he made it clear that God’s power was at work.  The early portion of Peter’s sermon centered on the Lord Jesus: God’s Servant (clearly a reference to the “Suffering Servant” section of the Prophecy of Isaiah), and the Holy and Righteous One.  This glorious person, Peter made clear, these Jews had betrayed and executed, preferring that Pilate release Barabbas (See Luke 23:18).  Furthermore, Peter affirmed the resurrection of Jesus, and he ascribed the healing of the lame man to the Christ.

2.      salient points in Peter’s understanding of the gospel (vv. 17-26)

a.       the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament (vv. 17 and 21-25): Like his Pentecostal sermon, Peter made liberal reference to the Old Testament,

b.      the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus (vv. 18 and 21)

c.       the necessity of repentance and faith (v. 19)

 

II.                The Response of the Jewish Leaders (4:1-31)

A.    The arrest of Peter and John (vv. 1-4): Peter’s sermon apparently caused something of a stir in the temple confines. Some of the priests, the captain of the Temple (a high ranking Levite responsible for preserving peace), and some of the Sadducees confronted the apostles about preaching the resurrection.  Since the hour was late (the Temple area was closed after the last sacrifice of he day), the Sadducees placed the disciples in prison, for the night.  

B.     The trial of Peter and John (vv. 5-12): The next day the Jewish leaders, members of the Sanhedrin (a seventy-member Jewish ruling council), questioned the disciples about the healing of the lame man; in particular they raised questions about the source of the apostles’ power and authority.  Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, expressed his puzzlement that the leaders found fault with healing an infirmed man.  However, Peter saw the real concern of the Sanhedrin, and he accused them of crucifying the Lord Jesus—they had rejected the Chief Cornerstone.

C.     The threats of the Sanhedrin (vv. 13-22): Apparently, the Sanhedrin realized they had no case against these men; so, they determined to use threats to silence Peter and John.  The apostles, of course, refused to bow to the demands of the council and insisted that they would continue to preach those things which they had seen and heard.

 

III.             Life in the Early Church (4:23-5:42): This section gives readers some valuable insight into the nature of the primitive church.  This outline will highlight some of these characteristics.

A.    Earnest prayer for boldness (4:23-31): The disciples knew that the strength they needed to stand up under the pressure of persecution—that kind of boldness comes from the Lord.  Furthermore, they knew that only God could provide the supernatural power to give success to the preaching of the gospel.  These early followers of Jesus prayed that God might grant them boldness, and they left the success of the preaching in the hands of the Lord.  Immediately, the Lord answered their prayers and sent the Holy Spirit to fill all who prayed.

B.     Generosity (4:32-37)

1.      spontaneous openheartedness (4:32-37): As a matter of course, these early believers opened their hearts to the needs of others.  Apparently, no one coerced this generosity; rather, it arose from the genuine unselfishness of God’s people.  Note, the text seems to draw a connection between this generosity and the apostles’ great power in preaching (See v. 33). Among the self-giving saints, a man named Joseph (nicknamed Barnabas—“son of encouragement”) sold a piece of land and gave the proceeds to the apostles.

2.      counterfeit generosity (5:1-11): Perhaps Barnabas’ generosity brought him some unsought notoriety, and unholy people envied the attention and affirmation. Ananias and Sapphira also sold some land and gave a portion of the money to the apostles.  Peter confronted Ananias about lying to the Holy Spirit. If I understand the text correctly, Peter did not object to the couple retaining some of the price of the land; rather, he confronted Ananias about lying to the Holy Spirit.  In a startling turn of events, God struck Ananias dead, on the spot, and, three hours later, Sapphira appeared before Peter. She perpetuated her husband’s lie, and she fell dead, just as Ananias did before her.  Great fear came upon the entire church.

C.     Miraculous power (5:12-16): Great signs and wonders continued at the hands of the apostles, things that could not be explained in human terms, and many brought the sick, desperate people to the church.  With great boldness, the apostles healed the sick in Solomon’s Portico, the very place where the controversy began concerning the lame man.

D.    Continued persecution (5:17-42): No doubt, as a result of the continued preaching of the apostles, the Sadducees, enraged at the disciples’ insolence, were enraged and filled with jealousy. They arrested and imprisoned the apostles; however, during the night, an angel miraculously delivered the men from incarceration and told them to return to the Temple to preach.  The next morning, the disciples did as the angel instructed.  The Sanhedrin sent messengers to the prison to bring the disciples, but the messengers found the jail empty.  When the Jewish leaders heard that the apostles were preaching in the Temple, the officials brought the men in for questioning.  Again, the Sanhedrin threatened the men, but the disciples refused to bow to the pressures and, again, boldly proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The enraged Sanhedrin wanted to kill the men, but they feared the reaction of the people.  Gamaliel, a respected leader of the Pharisees, tempered the anger of the Sanhedrin by an eloquent, brief speech.  He assured his hearers that they could not resist God.  If the Lord was at work among the disciples of Christ, the Jewish  leaders could not overcome the power of God.  The Sanhedrin listened to Gamaliel’s counsel, and, after flogging the disciples, let the men go.  The apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer persecution for the sake of the gospel.