Click here for a print-friendly version
Praise for Salvation
Fall Quarter: Celebrating God
Unit 1: God’s People Offer Praise
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 26, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Acts 2:32-33, 37-47
Key Scripture (NIV):
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
Lesson Introduction and Context
The Acts of the Apostles
- To realize the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in our salvation.
- To realize the importance of personally accepting Jesus as Lord.
- To realize the importance of becoming rooted in the faith.
Luke, the physician and associate of Paul, wrote both Luke’s Gospel and Acts. The book of Acts possesses a clear outline of the evangelistic ministry of the early Church. The book opens with an interesting choice of verbs. Luke wrote, “I write to you about all that Jesus began
to do and teach.” His gospel includes the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Why did he not write, “about all that Jesus did
?” Luke owned a very clear understanding that the Church was indeed the body of Christ in the world. The ministry of Jesus was not over after the ascension! It would continue through the Church, the body of Christ! One of the key verses in understanding the ministry of the church is found in verse 8. The disciples asked Jesus, prior to his ascension, if he would reveal the time of the Kingdom’s establishment. He answered it was not for them to know, only God knows and chooses the time. Then Jesus says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. This is exactly the pattern of Acts. The Church’s ministry begins in Jerusalem, then moves to the outlying area in Judea, and then to Samaria. As the book of Acts ends, the Church is moving into the uttermost parts of the earth. Our text occurs in the earliest moments of the Church’s life. The disciples and followers are in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit has been given, and Peter offers the first sermon as they leave the room.
Do you believe your church is the embodiment, and is embodying, the life and ministry of Jesus? In what ways is your church the presence of Christ in the world? Does your church embrace a ministry of evangelistic movement? The early Church moved from Jerusalem, into Judea, Samaria, into the uttermost parts of the earth. Do we have such a ministry? If not, how can your church establish a ministry of outreach?
The events in our text occur during the festival of Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost is also known in the Bible as the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Harvest. In Jesus’ day it was the celebration of the initial grain harvest for the year. Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after Passover and provided a time to thank God for the harvest.
In the early Church, Pentecost was observed 50 days after Easter. It is the day the Church was birthed through the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believed and followed. It was a day of awakening to the power and meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Pentecost was indeed a day of harvest; however, it was a harvest of souls.
When is the last time you witnessed a “harvesting of souls?” Is your church ministering to its membership only, or is it ministering to the membership while reaching the world about you? Does your church observe Pentecost? What are some ways your church can more meaningfully celebrate Pentecost?
The Upper Room
120 followers of Christ are meeting in one accord. Judas has been replaced by Mathias, and all are waiting for Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. Tradition teaches this Upper Room is the same room in which Jesus ate his last supper. We are not certain of this. However, if true, the room of somber sadness became a dwelling of joy. Our lesson does not address the manifestation of the cloven tongues of fire, but it is important to realize, and it is quite obvious, they are the tongues (languages) of the people in Jerusalem who had journeyed to Jerusalem from all over the near eastern world. We have no idea exactly how many Jews were in Jerusalem during this Pentecost, but some scholars claim it could have been 100,000 or more. Some offer numbers as high as a million. Nevertheless, a crowd walked and occupied the winding streets of the city.
Imagine being one of the 120 beautifully touched by God and receiving the promised Holy Spirit! You are just a common person experiencing the uncommon. A great crowd is milling around outside. The Spirit has come and you are filled with ecstatic joy. What do you do with your joy? What would you say to them, especially who speak another tongue? The gift of tongues was not so much for the 120; it was for those waiting outside to hear!
And, the people did hear! Approximately 3,000 responded to Peter’s sermon! The Gospel spread rapidly and quickly moved outside the city. Jesus was still moving in the world through the Holy Spirit!
Have we been so overjoyed in our faith we could not remain silent? Did we share our faith and experience? If not, what held us back? If we expressed our joy and shared our message, what was the result? Do we believe today’s world is ready to hear the joyful, loving story of Christianity?
The role of Simon Peter in our lesson
The miracle in which Jesus touches a blind man’s eyes twice is confusing to some. Was Jesus just tired? Hardly. Did the man not have enough faith? Hardly. Jesus performed the miracle in this manner for a purpose. Read Mark 8:22-25. Following this miracle Jesus asks the disciples, especially Peter, “Who do men say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” Peter immediately answered, “You are Messiah!” However, Peter’s perception of the Messiah was fuzzy. Like the others, Peter expected a military messiah. He expected Jesus to lead Israel against Rome and reclaim the land. Therefore, when Jesus foretold his death Peter rebuked him. According to Simon Peter the Messiah would never die the death of a criminal. Such suffering belonged to the most sinful.
A second touch occurred for Peter at Pentecost. He is filled with God’s Spirit and begins to see far more clearly. Jesus’ death on the cross, which Peter initially rejected, is preached by Peter to be an act of God. He preached, “This Jesus whom you crucified God has made Lord and Christ.” Our faith is a journey of “God’s touches.” Prior to accepting Jesus as Lord, God touches us in ways that draw us nearer. Then there is that powerful touch when we surrender our lives to Christ. Then, there is a lifetime of touches, each creating illumination and transformation.
Looking to the past, can you share God’s touches upon your life that drew you nearer? Can you share that moment when you surrendered to Christ, when all former experiences of God’s love overwhelmed you? How have the Lord’s touches enlivened and illuminated you since choosing to follow Christ? Have you fully embraced such touches or have we quickly forgotten their meaning? In what ways does our life parallel Simon Peter’s?
Jesus is Alive and Lord
Our lesson begins with the greatest proclamation on earth. God has raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus is alive now! The apostles make certain the people in the streets of Jerusalem know this isn’t just a wish; the disciples proclaim, “We saw him after his death!” For 40 days they witnessed the resurrected Christ and heard him teach. The phrase “exalted to the right hand of God,” should not cause confusion regarding the trinity. Peter is inspired by God to preach. He uses the highest, most noble language possible. He uses images common to him and the crowd. Peter is proclaiming Jesus is all-powerful and all-righteous. He sits at God’s right hand! Again, Peter is not being literal. He is expressing the Lordship of Jesus with the greatest vocabulary available to him.
Peter next preaches another powerful truth. Jesus has given the promised Holy Spirit to the followers in the Upper Room, and it is promised to all who believe and follow. Hearing the Gospel preached in their own tongue and witnessing the joy emerging from the Upper Room are signs of the Spirit being given.
Salvation begins with reality that Christ suffered and rose from the dead. St. Paul wrote “if Christ is not raised from the dead, our faith is in vain.” The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Before Peter addresses the signs and wonders people are seeing, he wants the crowd to realize that believing in the resurrected Christ anchors us in eternal substance. The resurrection occurred and the power and purpose of that moment continues. The Greek language possessed a tense we do not have in English. It is the aorist
. This tense recognizes something has happened, but it continues. The cross and resurrection of Jesus occurred, past tense. However, they are as much a reality now as then. It is imperative for the Church to embody the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of his life over death. If not, we treat the holiest events as if they are “museum pieces.” Each time we give of ourselves in sacrificial love, people can witness the reality of Jesus’ cross. Each time we embrace a life that transcends our daily life we proclaim Jesus is Lord and alive now! When in spirit we rise above the most desperate circumstances, we proclaim the reality of the Kingdom of God!
Is the resurrection of Jesus a living reality for us as opposed to a past event that happened more than 2,000 years ago? Is the celebration and reality of the resurrection paramount in your church’s worship and outreach? In what ways can we personally embrace the resurrected Jesus daily? How can your church’s outreach better reflect the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection?
Repent and Be Baptized
The listeners were cut to the heart, asking, “What shall we do?” Notice, those asking this question use the term “brothers.” They are identifying with Peter and the others as being “like them.” If Jesus can save them and give them the Spirit, he can do the same for us! “What shall we do?” Peter had not just appealed to their minds and reason, he spoke to their hearts. This is a beautiful witness to the presence of the Spirit in his life. When Jesus taught and preached, peoples’ hearts “burned within them.” Note, this is not a “captive audience.” They can leave at any time. However, they listened because they stood in need of Christ. Peter’s words were exposing and touching that need.
In response to the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter asks the crowd to repent and be baptized. Repentance has two meanings in Scripture. The first is the one with which we are most familiar. To repent means to turn 180 degrees and walk in the opposite direction. Peter preaches they should “save themselves from this corrupt generation.” There is little doubt there exist “sinful cultures” that entice us to accept non-Christian values. As it was in Peter’s day, it is in ours. Repentance involves a willful choice to turn from the destructive paths we walk and walk in the righteousness of Jesus. We should feel no romance with darkness. A destructive path doesn’t always mean a deadly path. Any path that leads us toward hate, bigotry, revenge, etc. is destructive. Any path that leads us away from God’s will for our life is destructive. The second meaning of repentance means “to prepare” for something great. When John the Baptist called people to repent he implied both definitions. The people were to turn from their sin and prepare for the coming of the Lord. When we repent, we turn from our sin and prepare ourselves to walk the new life made possible through Jesus. One should not just attempt to “stop sinning.” We can only overcome sin and a destructive life through walking with Jesus into God’s future.
Baptism is an important rite and sacrament in our faith. The call to be baptized meant to accept the death of Jesus and accept the new life made possible through his resurrection. Baptism also expressed becoming a part of the Christian community, the Church. For the infant it means to be brought into the Christian community for nurture and care until they one day accept Christ personally and embrace their baptism as their own. The crowd to which Peter preached on this occasion would have been mostly adults. They needed to express their faith in the living Jesus through baptism. They also needed to be brought into the newly birthed Church. Let us remember, the early Church did not argue over baptism. The only argument in the New Testament regarding baptism was related to “who performed the baptism.” The early Church simply rejoiced that another person and household were accepting Jesus and walking in the faith.
Were you baptized as an infant? Were you reared in the church and in the faith? Did you choose for yourself to make Christ your own at confirmation? What did your confirmation teach you about baptism, the church, and personal faith? Were you baptized as an adult upon receiving Jesus? What did your baptism mean to you?
Do you understand the role of repentance in your life? Can you recall that moment when you chose to leave your lifestyle for Jesus? Did you possess a sense of expectation that you were embarking on a new, meaningful journey? Did your desires change? How is your life different in Christ?
Planting the Community through Word
It wasn’t enough to simply win people to Christ, they needed to become rooted in their new faith. One of the difficulties some large evangelistic meetings experience is the inability to establish converts in a church. Leaving new converts to fend for themselves is akin to casting seed upon broken ground only to have the birds quickly consume it. It was vitally important to establish themselves and others in the faith and to establish Christian relationships.
The early converts devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. I love the word “devoted.” The word means “very loving and loyal.” They did not attend a couple of teaching meetings only to disappear, or show up now and then. They were devoted! They were passionate about Jesus and their new life together! Luke’s reminder that they devoted themselves to the “apostles’ teaching” informs us the only sources for understanding Jesus and his teaching the early Church were their experiences and the oral tradition taught by the apostles. There was no New Testament at this time, and no letters of Paul. The oral tradition was powerful. Great care was taken to transmit Jesus’ words and actions accurately. There was great expectation Jesus would return immediately; thus we have no written documents in the very beginning. However, approximately 30 plus years after Pentecost the Church would have the Gospel of Mark. Also, Paul’s letters began to circulate. The Gospels were actually the “oral tradition” in writing. Each author expressed the same Gospel from a different perspective, all complimenting each other. Mark was a bare-bones account of Jesus’ ministry and life. Matthew uses Mark for a framework and adds a Jewish understanding of the Gospel. Luke also uses Mark, at least 70+ percent, and adds his Gentile-physician perspective. John is written years later and is the most mystical and philosophical. Consequently, God has given us a single Gospel from four perspectives that speak together as one. This is profound and remarkable in and of itself! The early Christians were rooted in Christ through the precious oral tradition, the Spirit’s illumination, the authority of the apostles, and the testimonies of brothers and sisters in the Church.
What role has the Bible played in your Christian development? Are you devoted to its teaching? Are you thankful for pastors and teachers who devote themselves to sharing the Word? Do you pray for them? Does Scripture come to mind outside of church? Does a verse or passage come to mind as you walk through a particular experience? Are you aware of the Holy Spirit’s illumination when you study Scripture? What role does the Christian community occupy in your study?
Planting the Community through the Breaking of Bread
The breaking of bread could mean a fellowship meal or the sacrament of Holy Communion. The early Church did observe this holy sacrament, for Paul alludes to it in I Corinthians. This was around 50 AD. It could also be a fellowship meal together. Yet, the fellowship meal consisted of important elements present in the sacrament. They ate joyfully and gratefully in the fellowship of Christ and the Spirit. The meal was blessed in prayer, and it was ensured there was enough for all. Remember, Christians were far from a majority. Their togetherness provided incredible strength and consolation. It would have been dangerous and destructive for the Church to “forsake their gathering together (Heb. 10:25).” Gathering around the table was extremely important. The table has always represented a place of fellowship. Sharing a meal together still represents one of the greatest forms of fellowship. When we date someone we like or love we invite them to dinner. The family time for many families is observed daily at the table. Going out to eat with friends and colleagues remains an important conduit for fellowship.
The experiences at table in the early Church will later become “agape suppers.” The fellowship at the table will become known as an experience of God’s love and love for one another.
The sacrament of Holy Communion (the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist) was established by Jesus during the last supper. The elements of bread and wine are consecrated through prayer. This time at table is a most serious moment, yet also an experience of great joy. It proclaims the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is within us! The broken bread would express his brokenness for our healing. The cup would express the pouring out of his life that we might be filled. Communion is both symbolic and a means of grace. God is present in this sacred meal. Those who partake through earnest faith experience that grace and God’s empowerment to live in Christ. This sacrament is to be done “when the Church is gathered.”
How important is Holy Communion in your faith? Does the experience help you realize the grace of God is present through the broken bread and cup? Do you understand the importance of observing this sacrament “within the church?” Does your church observe the sacrament regularly? Do you enjoy Christian fellowship with others around a table? Does your church offer opportunities to gather around a common meal?
Planted through Sharing
The Church began to meet at every available opportunity. Some of the faithful possessed more wealth than others. As a matter of fact, many of them were in need. The Church saw the importance, early in its existence, to take care of each other. People began selling their possessions and distributing them to those in need. We need to remember that they expected the imminent return of Jesus. Therefore, possessions had little value since the Kingdom of God would fully break into human history any day. Eventually, this “fully-committed” sharing created some dissension. Acts records the dishonesty of Ananias and Sapphira related to this activity. As they realized perhaps Jesus would return later, this practices of distributing their wealth diminished. However, the act of sharing and caring for one another and others became foundational to Church’s growth in grace and compassion. The manner in which sharing occurred may have changed, but the purpose and meaning found in sharing continued. Giving was an act that revealed Jesus was still giving and offering life. Jesus still cared for the poor and neglected. The believers discovered that giving nurtured one’s soul. Giving made it easier to withstand the temptation to idolize mammon. Giving established relationships with others. When another received help face to face or through the fellowship of the church, everyone was touched. Personal and church giving to those in need is far more redemptive than receiving help from an impersonal organization or source. The act of giving is an act of worship. It is the response of a grateful and compassionate heart. We can understand why the Church grew so rapidly. People were witnessing the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection through those who joyfully gave of themselves and their purses.
Is giving an act of worship for you? How does your church celebrate the act of giving? Is giving understood to be a holy expression versus an obligation? Does your church care for those in need? How? Have you been blessed through giving? In what manner? Does our personal, and our church’s giving, reveal the sacrifice and new life of Christ? How can we ensure this?
The early Church embodied a rich, deep fellowship. Amazing strength was found in their fellowship, and, their fellowship was anchored in eternal substance. All of the Church’s activity was an act of praise. The oral tradition, fellowship, and prayers provided them the spiritual food necessary for living with grateful, loving, transformed hearts. They praised God for the Gospel itself and the new life being experienced by believers and the new life of the community. They indeed were the redeemed community. Christ lived, died, and lives again! This was their message, and this became their life. They lived while dying; they were dying to all that was destructive, dark, and ungodly. Their lives were so transformed they attracted people. Their compassion through Christ was so touching people wanted what they had. People were asking the early Church, “What shall we do to experience this Jesus?”
Are you able to share your experience through Christ? Are you so grateful for God’s grace that your life is one of praise? Do people see Christ in you? Does your life proclaim Jesus is alive and moving in life?
Almighty God, we live in awe and wonder. Your grace has abounded and we struggle to respond properly. Hear the praise of our life. May our actions reflect the presence of Jesus, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. May our hearts offer silent praise when words are insufficient. We thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and your Church. We are thankful for our life in Christ and the life we live together in the body of Christ. May our lives be invitational to a hurting, broken, and wandering world. Help us to see the crowd gathered outside the walls who seek Jesus. Grant us courage to offer them Christ. In Jesus name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.