Conclusion to Peter's Story, ready for Paul
(10) Peter’s Ministry
Last week we saw how God persuaded Peter that Gentiles could also be baptized, receive the Spirit, and become full followers of the Way. How willing do you think Peter was at this point to accept other Christians preaching Christ to the Gentiles in foreign lands?
Even today, missionaries sometimes appear to work against each other, because they don’t believe each other’s churches to be truly Christian. What might this do to our witness? And what might it do to our faith?
News from Antioch
1. Read Acts 11:19-22. Why is preaching to Hellenists any different from preaching to Jews?
2. Why do the church authorities (including, presumably, Peter) need to send out a representative?
3. Read Acts 11:22-24. What difference would it have made if Barnabas were not “full of the Holy Spirit”?
4. Read Acts 11:25-26. Why Saul? Do you think Barnabas is acting with or without authority?
5. Read Acts 11:27-30. Who is Agabus? (Read Acts 21:10-12 – still a Jewish prophet, and he still remembers Paul)
6. Who is Claudius? If there are recorded famines whose dates don’t agree with this account, does that prove the account false? (Claudius was emperor from 41-54 AD, after Caligula, who followed Tiberius. He sent Aulus Plautius to invade Britain in 47 AD, at about the same time as a famine, mentioned by Josephus and other contemporary historians, but Herod Agrippa died in 44 AD. Claudius was succeeded by Nero.)
7. There’s a nice symmetry here – spiritual food to Antioch, which sends physical food in return. Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, which do you think we are more often thankful for – spiritual or physical food?
Herod, Peter and James
1. Read Acts 12:1. Which “Herod” is this? (Herod the Great’s grandson, grew up in Rome, friend of Caligula and Claudius, eventually came to rule over the same lands as Herod the Great.)
2. Why would Herod decide to persecute Christians “at this time”?
3. Read Acts 12:2. James seemed pretty important earlier – remember all those Peter, James and John scenes. Does that mean Herod thwarted God’s will by killing James? Does it mean people didn’t pray hard enough? How do we respond when prayers aren’t answered?
4. Read Acts 12:3-4. What do you think Herod had in mind, given that it’s Passover? What kind of effect could his actions have had on the early church?
5. Read Acts 12:5. How did the Christians respond? How do we respond to perceived threats to our faith – for example, to “Happy Holidays” instead of “Happy Christmas”?
6. Is it easier or harder to pray when we can’t imagine a good outcome to our problem?
7. Read Acts 12:6-10. Peter probably couldn’t imagine a good outcome for tomorrow. How would that affect his prayers? How does it affect our prayers when we don’t know what to ask for?
8. Does Peter show a lack of faith by thinking that he’s dreaming? Do you suppose it’s easier to obey unlikely commands (put your shoes on, when you’re meant to be a prisoner) if you think you’re dreaming?
9. Read Acts 12:12-16. Why does Rhoda think it’s Peter’s “angel”? What do you think she means?
10. How easily do we recognize God’s hand in unlikely events? How easily do we recognize his hand in more prosaic events? And how easily do we remember to give thanks?
11. Read Acts 12:16-19. Who does Peter mean by “James and the brethren”? And why does he go to Caesarea?
Death of Herod
1. According to Josephus, Herod Agrippa went to Caesarea where he had games performed in Claudius’ honor. People hailed him, or at least his voice, as a god. But a prophet had told Herod he would die after hearing this acclamation a second time (the first time was when he was in prison during Tiberius’ reign). Herod then became ill and died five days later. How does this compare with the gospel account? Read Acts 12:20-23.
2. Jewish tradition views Herod’s death in a different light. He was careful not to offend their faith, donated his gold chain (given by Caligula) to the sanctuary, and avoided placing foreign symbols on money. They believe Rome viewed his fortification of Jerusalem as a prelude to war and ordered his murder at the games in Caesarea. Does this shed any light on the story of Herod killing James? Or on Herod’s death?
3. Read Acts 12:24-25. The world sees the death of Herod. What does the church see as important? What ministry had Barnabas and Saul completed? And what did they do next?
Council at Jerusalem
1. We next hear of Peter around 49 AD after Saul’s first missionary journey. What do you think Peter has been doing in the meantime? (Read Galatians 2:7-8)
2. Read Acts 15:5-11. What is Peter’s position in the church at this point?
3. Read Acts 15:12-21. What is Paul’s position? What is James’?
4. Some Christian sects take each line of this decree literally. How might we answer them? Is there a group we might consider naming instead of “Even all the Gentiles” to strengthen our argument?
5. Judas and Silas are sent with Barnabas and Paul to carry a written message. (Read Acts 15:22-29, Galatians 2:1-10.) Would you expect this to be the end of the story? Would one letter resolve everything?
6. Read Galatians 2:11-13. Have you ever declared something to be true, then acted as if it weren’t?
7. Paul uses the situation as a starting point for a lesson on grace and law. Which is easier, continuing to rebuke someone, or moving on to teach everyone?