We're so glad you've decided to join us today!
We are meeting in person again! While we meet, we share our joys and concerns from the past week with each other. If you have any prayer requests you would like to share, you can add them in the comments. Our Sunday School lessons for this quarter are all about celebrating God. Our prayer today is a prayer of praise thanksgiving. When you are ready, use the prayer below to get started.
Father, I thank You today for the gift of praise. Thank you for revealing Yourself to me through Your Word, by Your Spirit, and in Your creation, that I might stand in awe of You. You alone are worthy of praise and glory and honor, for You have created all things, that in all things You might be preeminent. For every request that I offer, every supplication that I raise, and every intercession I make, let me never neglect to render the praise You are due. In the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.
This week's lesson is on Acts 2:32-33, 37-47.
The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were both written by Luke, a Gentile disciple and physician (Colossians 4:14). The Gospel is like a Part 1, while Acts is Part 2. Both of Luke's books are written to a person called Theophilus. The contents of the book of Acts span about 30 years, beginning in AD 30. The time frame of our lesson is 50 days after Jesus' resurrection.
The apostle Peter is the speaker in today's text. Our book says there is a good chance that many or most of the audience listening to Peter speak had also been in Jerusalem during Jesus' trials, crucifixion and resurrection. Those making the annual pilgrimage for observances of Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread would stay for the Festival of Weeks.
For Jewish people, the Festival of Unleavened Bread is an eight day long holiday, the first day of which is Passover. The Festival of Weeks, Shavuot, takes places fifty days after the first day of the Passover festival. This is the same day that our story takes place, and the same day that we celebrate Pentecost.
At first glance, we may be surprised that Peter exhibited the boldness we see in today's text. He had denied Jesus three times before the crucifixion (Luke 22:54-62) and had cowered afterward in a locked room (John 20:19). But having been reinstated by Jesus himself after the resurrection (John 21:15-19), Peter became a different man.
The Jewish people were expecting their Messiah to be a king like David (Matthew 12:23), not this Jesus. They were expecting a political savior to rescue them from the Romans. Instead, they got Jesus, who was a humble servant with no palace.
While the people did not recognize Jesus, it was all in God's plan from the very beginning. This included God promising to strike the servant in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15), promising Abraham his progeny would be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3), and raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:23-35).
Our book points out that verse 33 refers to two different scriptures. One is the beginning of Acts 2, with the wind, fire and speaking in tongues, what the people "see and hear now." The second is Joel 2. Part of the prophecy is quite familiar. Verses 28 and 29 read:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days."
Peter sees the events of that day as fulfilling Joel's prophecy. In fact, part of Acts 2 is the first public announcement of the significance of Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. The Scriptures had predicted that all this would happen to the Messiah (examples: Psalms 2, 16, 22; Isaiah 53; Luke 24:25-27).
Peter's words brought many people to the painful realization that God sent Jesus out of love for them, but they had rejected him. Even though they had not personally driven the nails into his hands and feet, they had either agreed with those who did, or they had approved of the crucifixion by their silence.
When the people ask what they should do, Peter tells them to repent and be baptized. This means they should turn away from sin and toward God in heart, mind and lifestyle. Their entire lives should change.
The scripture then says about 3,000 people were baptized. Modern estimates suggest that Jerusalem's population was about 60,000 - 80,000 people at that time. With the annual observance of the Festival of Weeks, the number would have been temporarily much higher. The 3,000 people were really just a small fraction of the people were there. But many of them may have been visitors to Jerusalem. This means that as they left, they could take their accounts of what had happened back to their hometowns.
The people who were baptized that day were also devoted. They really did change their lives. They spent time in fellowship, pooling their time, talent and treasure into the gospel task. This is more than just gathering together. They shared meals. They prayed.
The text also says the earliest Christians had everything in common. They shared their possessions. They sold property to be able to give to those in need. Christians are still called to give to those in need.
These people found strength in getting together every day. Larger groups could meet in the temple courts, while smaller gatherings could meet in their homes. Public meetings in the temple meant that the earliest Christians were not huddling together in secret. Instead, their public witness gained them favor of all the people. Having a good reputation with outsiders is important for attracting them to Jesus.
In our modern society, Christians can allow themselves to become too busy to engage in the kind of fellowship described in this passage. We may get home after work, shut the garage door, and "cocoon" for the rest of the evening. What a tragedy to miss out on opportunities that can bind the church together!
Question for Discussion
Verse 42 says the early Christians devoted themselves to four things:
The most powerful realization from today's text is that Christ is still good news for a dying world -- he has been since the day of Pentecost, and he will continue to be so until he returns. Until then, we must share Jesus with everyone we can.
Foundational to this effort is a sense of awe, which is often missing in the church today. Sometimes our worship services feel stale. Our prayer lives may dry up. We allow the urgent to distract us from the important. But in those times, we can ask for transformation as we cry for God to "restore to me the joy of your salvation," (Psalm 51:12).
God still works in and through his people. May we be aware of his movement in our lives, our churches, and our communities so that we too may see the church growing daily.
Lord, thank you for being the God of transformation! As you have been merciful, patient, and forgiving to us in that regard, may we be so to others who need to hear of your son. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Next week's lesson is on Psalm 100.
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We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.