(4) How to start a religion?
The first Christians were viewed as just another sect of Judaism; at best they were followers of a dead Jewish prophet; at worst they were just an undisciplined mob of potential trouble-makers. As we read chapters 3 and 4 of Acts, we’ll see how they began to define themselves as something unique, as followers of Christ.
1. Before we start, what do we know about the apostles’ behavior? Did they conduct themselves like good Jews or like rebels, or something else? Read Acts 3:1
2. Luke tells the story of Peter healing a lame man, who proceeds to go “walking and leaping and praising God.” Before we looks at the details, do you remember where he walked and leapt to?
a. Why would a lame man be waiting at the gate to the Temple?
b. Does anyone know which gate he was begging at? How would we try to guess? Read Acts 3:8,11
c. Have you ever wondered how Peter knew to heal the beggar? How good are we at knowing when God wants us to do something different from our everyday lives? Read Acts 2:42
d. Jesus often asked for faith before healing someone. What did Peter ask for? Read Acts 3:2-7
e. Jesus often asked people to keep quiet after being healed. Do you think Peter wanted people to keep quiet? Do you think they did? Read Acts 3:7-10
3. Jesus’ miracles were often performed to reveal a truth. What truth do you think Peter’s miracle might have revealed?
a. How did Peter know this was a good time to preach a sermon? How good are we at seeing opportunities when God presents them to us?
b. Read Acts 3:11-12. This is Peter’s second recorded sermon. What similarities do you see with his first? Read Acts 2:22
c. Do you ever feel uncomfortable when someone praises you for doing something you believe God helped you do? How did Peter feel? Read Act 3:12-16. Do you see any more similarities with the first sermon?
d. Why do you think Peter’s sermons seem so critical of the Jews? In his last sermon, Peter ended by inviting the people to “Be saved from this perverse generation.” What is different this time? Read Acts 3:17-20
e. Peter’s previous sermon looked at David and end-time prophecies. What does this sermon concentrate on? Read Acts 3:19-24
f. Peter quotes Moses from Deuteronomy. Do you know when Moses said these words? Read Deuteronomy 18:15-22
g. After laying out how kings, priests and Levites should behave, and how the people should conduct themselves in a land of unbelievers, God promised a new prophet like Moses, then went on to designate cities of refuge for sinners. Can you see any deeper significance to Peter’s quote, given this?
h. How aware do you think Peter is at this point that he will end up preaching to Gentiles too? Read Acts 3:24-26
i. Do you remember where the promise to all the families of the earth comes from? Read Genesis 22:18, 26:4, 28:14
j. How aware are we of who God might be calling us to serve?
4. A miracle might gather crowds, followers and new believers. But it also gathers opposition. Does the danger come from the people Peter is serving, or from others? Read Acts 4:1-4 We know Peter was acting with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. How can we distinguish acting under God’s guidance from acting under human hubris?
a. Peter’s next sermon is fairly short. Read Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 118:22. When we hear this passage quoted, it’s often used to indicate that no-one other than Christians can get to heaven. What is Peter’s emphasis?
b. What surprised the authorities about Peter and John? Read Acts 4:13. How would we feel if that was what impressed people about us?
c. What was most convincing to the authorities, Peter’s wise words, or God’s miracle? Read Acts 4:14-18,22
d. Read Acts 4:17-18 What do you think motivates the authorities’ reaction. Why do they not want news of Jesus’ power to spread?
e. How did Peter and John respond to being told to keep quiet? Read Acts 4:19-22
5. So, there’s been a big miracle, a great sermon, a false arrest, and release. After these highs and lows, what do the apostles and their companions do? What would we do? Read Acts 4:23-30
a. What tempts us to give in, to relax and breathe a sigh of relief, or to step back into our comfort zone?
b. How important do you think it was to have followers they could gather together and pray with?
c. How important do you think it is for us to meet together as Christians?
d. How did the Holy Spirit respond? Read Acts 2:31
e. What sort of Holy Spirit response do we expect or receive?
6. Most of us aren’t called to be apostles. Who might we identify with in this story? How might that change our attitude to prayer? To faith? To our church?