Sabbath School Lesson for July 17-20, 2018
Outline of the Lesson
Life as it was in the early church was shown through these experiences…
- teaching and fellowship working together to unite and grow the movement (Sunday)
- the first public healing by Peter and John of a lame man in the temple gate (Monday)
- appearing before the Sanhedrin for public preaching and healing in the name of Jesus (Tuesday)
- the untimely death of Ananias and Sapphira, a couple who deceitfully kept back a portion of their wealth, after pledging to give it to God (Wednesday)
- Peter’s second arrest and miraculous escape, followed by Gamaliel’s argument in favor of his release (Thursday)
Our interest now turns to what happened to the disciples, just after the emotionally-charged Pentecostal experience. Their question to Peter, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) invites us to ask our own question, “What DID they do?”
The growth in their numbers, recorded by Luke, intrigues and entices us with the possibility of duplicating their success and achieving similar results in our sin-laden planet today. What motivated them to such measures as…
- meeting and studying God’s word DAILY in each other’s homes,
- sharing ALL their earthly possessions with each other, and
- reaching out to ALL people, regardless of nationality or religious affiliation.
The Holy Spirit obviously played a pivotal role in everything the early church accomplished. Perhaps it wasn’t so much what they did, but what spiritual gifts were encouraged and accepted by God’s people for this crucial task of launching His church.
If the whole world was to be reached, it would require an army of believers, ready to fight for God’s truth, and endure whatever it took for the final chapter of salvation that will take us all to our eternal home with Christ in the heavens above.
Memory Text: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” Acts 2:46, 47 NIV
This description sounds like an ideal, Utopian-style existence. But would it stand the fires of opposition that were about to be unleashed on their numbers? We anxiously try to determine what kind of faith it took for them to maintain their connection with God and preserve and protect the truths they were finding in God’s word.
Was there something about their experience that we can transfer to our own, that mirrors what God might once again expect of us in these last days? Let’s examine as closely as possible these first five chapters of Acts that show what life was like in the early days of the Christian church.
Sunday: Teaching and Fellowship
The growth in the church was not wholly due to its teaching the truth about who the Messiah was, or even about His soon return. Their growth hinged just as much on the sense of unity and generosity they experienced through their close fellowship and caring for each other.
While most of the teaching took place in the temples and places of worship, the home was the chief location for their bonding with each other. Of course, there was overlap. The synagogue was the place for them to reach out to others with the gospel, so bonding (fellowship) was present there. And the home was a place for them to pray and celebrate the Lord’s Supper as Jesus instructed, which in turn drew them closer to the truths they were preaching and teaching.
Above all, the Holy Spirit guided them in all their actions, provided authenticity to the truths they preached, and filled their hearts with unifying love. Miraculous signs and wonders helped boost their visibility to the world, but also increased the faith and courage required to withstand the attacks of Satan.
The fact that they were pooling all their resources, actually saying good-bye to their worldly possessions, indicates their overpowering belief that Jesus was coming back to them in the very near future. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper so often also shows the eager anticipation they had in celebrating it again with their Lord and Master in heaven.
Their communal existence accomplished two things:
- It gave them a deeper sense of unity with each other.
- It increased their ability to be generous to others.
Read Acts 2:42, 43, 46. Why was eating together in their homes important for these early Christian believers?
Read Acts 2:44, 45, 4:34, 35 and Matthew 6:31. What motivated such seemingly drastic measures as selling all their property? What prompted early Advent believers of the 19th century to similar actions as the supposed date of 1844 approached? What benefits may have resulted this form of communal living?
Read Acts 2:46 and 3:1. Why was it important for them to maintain their ties with Jewish believers in the temple? What benefits are there for us in attending a church, even when there are obvious problems within a congregation?
Monday: The Healing of a Lame Man
The first recorded healing in the name of Jesus performed by one of the disciples after the Resurrection benefited a forty-year-old lame man (Acts 4:22), who was begging by the temple gate. Peter and John must have both had compassion on the poor soul, whose only livelihood was asking for gifts from passersby on their way to the temple.
It must have pained the disciples not to have money to donate to his cause, but the Holy Spirit impressed Peter to offer healing for his disability instead. It took a great measure of faith for this bold measure in such a public setting, but their recent infilling of the Spirit enabled them to listen to God’s prompting.
This single healing led to another preaching opportunity, as people crowded near to hear from the men responsible for such a merciful and miraculous act. Peter, no longer afraid to proclaim his connection to Jesus, gladly declared to all the identity of the Man he had followed for three-and-a-half years: Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
Read Acts 3:1 and 20:16. Why were the apostles still observing many of the Jewish traditions (set prayer times in the temple and being in Jerusalem during Pentecost), even after those practices were no longer necessary? Can God use some traditions to reach certain people, and does He forbid us from observing them? When do traditions become unnecessary, however, and even harmful?
Read Acts 3:12, 16 and Matthew 9:22. Whose faith made the lame man whole? Who gives us the faith to be healed? Why are some people not healed, even when they seem to have faith, and others are healed, seemingly with little or no faith?
Read Acts 3:13-15, 19-21. What was the central topic of Peter’s sermons? What made a call of repentance so urgent to the first disciples’ preaching, and what makes it so vital to the church now?
Tuesday: The Rise of Opposition
Peter’s preaching, following the lame man being healed, led to the disciples being brought before the Sanhedrin council. This ruling body of the temple, headed by Annas, the high priest, expressed alarm and concern about the preaching of these two fisherman from Galilee.
Asking them by whose power the miracle was performed only gave Peter another chance to give God glory and again proclaim the name of Jesus as Messiah. The Pharisees and Sadducees were astonished at such boldness.
However, knowing there was no denying that the miracle took place, and that public sentiment was definitely on the side of the miraculous healing, the council agreed to release them with a warning to stop preaching about Jesus of Nazareth. Peter and John, despite the threats, boldly stated that they would not be able to refrain from testifying about their Lord and Savior.
Read Acts 4:7, 8 and Luke 12:11, 12. How was Peter able to give wise answers to the authorities?
Read Acts 4:10 and 2:23, 24. What two points in Peter’s testimony were the most threatening to the Jews? Why were they disturbing to his hearers, and how did the Jews respond?
Read Acts 4:19, 20, 5:29, and 1 John 1:1, 2. Why should God’s authority take priority over man’s?
Wednesday: Ananias and Sapphira
The consequences of sin are not usually felt immediately. Adam and Eve didn’t die instantly when they ate the forbidden fruit, and similarly, we find that most people in the Bible stumble through life, sinning now and then, sometimes with no apparent consequence for their wrong deeds, and at other times, suffering greatly.
We, along with the early church, find the story of Ananias and Sapphira shocking, to say the least. It seems so unlike God to punish people with death instantly after they sin (2 Peter 3:9), but this was a crucial time in church history, and God needed to remind His followers that their enemies were not only going to be found outside their community; the enemy Satan was working right among them.
We really don’t know how long God had been working to bring this couple to repentance. Their offense was not the result of one impulsive act, however grievous. It was a carefully-planned attempt to “test the Spirit of the Lord”, according to Acts 5:9.
No one was under obligation to sell their property for the church’s benefit, as they had offered to do. Most likely the two had devised this scheme to gain favor and influence among the growing Christian community in Jerusalem.
Actually, their foolish act did create an influence for them. The impact of their immediate deaths was felt by all, as a reminder that God was serious about the mission of the church. He would allow no one to sidetrack them from spreading the gospel. His faithful ones were no doubt struck by the miraculous way God took care of this deceitful couple.
Although death saddens us, no matter when and to whom it occurs, it also causes us to think more seriously about our own life and whether we are serving God in the fullest way possible. The death of Ananias and Sapphira was used by God to also make us think about how we may instead be trying to only serve ourselves.
Read Acts 4:36, 37 and Galatians 2:9. How did Barnabas first show his loyalty to God and his love for the church? How would his generosity and devotion impact his later missionary work with Paul?
Read Acts 5:3, 4 and Luke 22:3. When does Satan enter or fill our heart? How is it possible to get rid of his presence, once he is there? Did Ananias and Sapphira have a chance to be saved, right up to the time of their death? What makes you think so?
Read Ezekiel 18:20. In what ways is God fair, even in His judgment of Ananias and Sapphira?
Thursday: The Second Arrest
So many miracles accompanied the ministry of the apostles that the authorities became more and more jealous and agitated about the Christians in Jerusalem. Peter became so popular among the sick that it was believed that even his shadow had healing powers (Acts 5:15).
Therefore, it was no surprise that Peter found himself once again before the temple authorities, standing trial before the high priest. This time a well-known rabbi named Gamaliel came to his rescue. Gamaliel, a Pharisee and a doctor, brought some very logical arguments about Peter’s offenses that gave the council pause in carrying out punishment in his case.
Gamaliel reasoned that if the Christian movement was false, it would, like others, fade away. But if it was of God, then there was nothing they could do to stop it. Therefore, Peter was punished with flogging and released, after being told again to stop preaching in Jesus’ name.
Read Acts 5:17, 18 and Luke 21:12. What significance does their persecution before religious (in the synagogues) and civil (in prisons) have for the kind of persecution Christians may expect in the last days? How is God’s cause furthered by such persecutions (“for My sake”)?
Read Acts 5:29 and Titus 3:1, 2. When is the time to obey or not obey any authority other than God’s? How can we be disobedient, and still humble?
Read Acts 5:33, 34, 38, 39 and 22:3. What kind of things may have been learned by Paul, under the instruction of Gamaliel?
Wholistic healthcare has become popular these days. We need to take care of our whole bodies on many levels, physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.
Wholistic religion, which also takes in account all these areas, was practiced by the early church, and also deserves attention by the church today. Being baptized in the name of Jesus and filled by the Holy Spirit were just the first steps in becoming part of the Christian community.
Faith only grows by a consistent devotional life. This includes…
- Bible study,
- fellowship with other Christians, and
- witnessing to those around us.
The early Christian church, with its emphasis on the gospel of Jesus being our Messiah/Savior and the worldwide nature of its mission, was able to reach out and experience such phenomenal growth because of this wholistic approach, when it came to church operation.
They were eager to serve individuals better and make a stronger body of believers by practicing the love and tender care for people that Jesus Himself modeled during His time with them on earth.
Next Week’s Lesson: The First Church Leaders
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/