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Throughout the book of Acts, believing Jesus and what he said is the core value that marked every believer in the first church. Because they believed Jesus, the early Christians, including Peter, Paul, Stephen, and Timothy:
- Consistently chose risk over comforteven at the cost of some of their lives.
- Persistently opened their homes and arms, giving all they had to the Jesus way.
- Radically pursued Christ over cultureuntil they began to shape the culture around them.
In this eight-session video Bible study (DVD/digital video sold separately), Lisa Harper launches into the book of Acts to discover how Jesus' command to spread the gospel changed the lives of those who believed and shaped the culture that surrounded the growing church.
At the end of this journey together, not only will you have studied this wild, adventurous, risk-taking book of the Bible; but you'll see how God supernaturally orchestrated the events in Scripture to bring about the message of salvation that the early believers preached in the book of Acts.
Today, we are faced with the same decisions the early church faced. Will we, like them, truly believe the words of Jesus and allow them to transform every part of our lives?
- The Declarations that Define Us – The book of Acts, an extension of Luke's gospel
- Earth, Wind, and Celestial Fire – The Holy Spirit's dramatic entrance
- Checkered Pasts Can Make Incredible Preachers – The powerful preaching of Peter and Paul
- What’s Mine Is Yours – Finding freedom in freely giving
- Loving More People, More – A challenge to welcome everyone
- The Need to Be Re Gospeled – Even Peter and Paul made mistakes along the way
- Turning Your World Upside Down – A closer look at THIS Jesus: the one we're following
- Bearing the Chain Because – Anything is worth seeing the gospel suddenly click for someone
Designed for use with the Believing Jesus Video Study (sold separately).
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Read an Excerpt
A Journey Through the Book of ACTS
By LISA HARPER, Annie F. Downs
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Lisa Harper
All rights reserved.
The Declarations That Define Us
(Luke 24:1 – 53; Acts 1:1 – 26)
Fear and disillusionment. Courage and commitment. Intense emotion and unbridled passion. The ultimate risk of life in exchange for undeserved grace and a treasured spot in eternity. An example for billions of people who would follow the same road centuries and millennia later. An all-out quest by a growing number of believers to risk everything to spread Jesus Christ's message around the world. The Book of Acts. Wow.
From the Believing Jesus video
* * *
Yes, that's it. That is the book we are about to dig into for the next eight weeks, and it embodies all of those things.
This study is called Believing Jesus, because from Acts 1:1 to 28:31, believing Jesus is the core value that marked every believer in the first church. At the end of this journey together, not only will you have studied an amazing book of the Bible, but you will also see how God supernaturally orchestrated the events in Scripture — from the Old Testament to the New Testament — to bring about the message of salvation that the early believers preached in the book of Acts. You will also see how so much of the gospel that is preached in Acts, and continues to be preached today, has had such a profound impact on our culture.
When you choose to believe Jesus — and act on those beliefs — things begin to shift, lives change, and the world is never the same. The stories you read on every page of the book of Acts begin to become your own. So let's journey together through the stories of the first church — the first gathering of "The Way" (as Christianity was called back then) — and see what kind of wild adventures await those who truly believe Jesus.
WELCOME (5 MINUTES)
Welcome to the first session of Believing Jesus: A Journey Through the Book of Acts. If you or any of your fellow group members do not know one another, take a little time to introduce yourselves. Next, to get things started, discuss the following question:
The book of Acts is about choosing risk over comfort. What are some examples of doing that in our everyday lives?
VIDEO TEACHING (21 MINUTES)
Play the video teaching segment for Session 1. As you watch, use the following outline to record any thoughts or concepts that stand out to you.
The book of Acts is not "relaxing" — it is a wild, adventurous, and risk-taking kind of book.
Luke, a first-century physician, wrote both the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts. He is the only known non-Jewish (or "Gentile") writer in the Bible.
The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were originally one book and were meant to be read as two parts of the same story. The gospel of Luke ends with the story of Jesus' resurrection, which sets up the events that follow in Acts.
Three days after Jesus' physical death, Mary Magdalene — a devoted follower of Christ whom Jesus had healed completely of demons — went to the tomb and discovered it empty. She talked to a man she at first thought was the gardener but then realized was Christ. She went back to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive, but they thought it was an "idle" tale.
Luke tells us that Jesus didn't immediately go back to heaven after his resurrection but hung out on the earth for forty days. During this time, the Gospels record ten separate occurrences of Jesus appearing to the disciples and to more than a hundred people.
In Acts 1, Luke tells us that before Jesus went up (or "ascended") into heaven, he made two declarative statements to his followers: (1) they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, and (2) they would be his witnesses. These statements became the foundation of the early church and the scaffolding that frames the rest of the New Testament.
Jesus didn't qualify these statements. He said that everyone who puts their hope in him would receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and this power would compel them to be his witnesses and impact the world around them.
If we could just rest in the reality that Jesus loves us — that we have been given power from the Holy Spirit and can be his witnesses to this lost and dying world — it will change everything.
SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION (30 MINUTES)
Take some time with your group members to discuss what you just watched and explore these concepts in Scripture.
1. Why is it significant that Luke, the writer of Acts, was a Gentile?
2. What does Luke tell us about Mary Magdalene? Why was she so committed to Jesus?
3. Why didn't the disciples believe Mary and the other women when they told them that Jesus had risen from the dead?
4. What was Peter's reaction to the news? What do we learn about him in Luke 24?
5. What kind of kingdom did the disciples expect Jesus to bring? How was that different from what he actually brought?
6. Why are Jesus' two declarations in Acts 1 — that those who follow him would receive power from the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses — so central to our faith?
7. When you hear "receive the power from the Holy Spirit," what does that mean to you? What qualification did Jesus make about those who could receive this power?
8. What would it look like in your life today to be Jesus' witness to this world?
INDIVIDUAL ACTIVITY (5 MINUTES)
Read or skim through some of the gospel of Luke, the book that shares an author with Acts. What stories of Jesus on earth are most interesting to you? Before the crucifixion and resurrection, what miracles stand out to you? Write down which stories are your favorites.
God, thank you for your written Word. We are grateful for people like Dr. Luke who took time to write down details about the life of Jesus and the early church. Give us ears to hear your truths in the pages of Acts and eyes to see what it looks like to believe Jesus.
Read chapter 1, "The Cost of Discipleship," in Believing Jesus. Use the space below to write down any notes or any questions you want to bring to the next meeting.
Between-Sessions Personal Study
Reflect on the content covered in the Session 1 group study by exploring the following material from the Bible and from Believing Jesus. Before you begin, answer these questions:
What are you hoping to gain from this study?
What are some things you already know about the book of Acts?
What do you want to know more about?
What would it look like for you to really believe Jesus today?
Day 1: Welcome to Acts
As Lisa mentioned in the video, Acts is written by Dr. Luke, who also authored the gospel of Luke. Together, the books take up about one-fourth of the New Testament! Dr. Luke's books were well-trusted at the time of their writing, and they still are today. The interesting viewpoint that Dr. Luke brings to his writing is that he is a Gentile, not a Jew. This means that the lens through which he sees Jesus and all the disciples is significantly different than most of the other New Testament authors, such as Paul or Peter in their letters.
Read Luke 1:1 – 4. How do we know we can trust Dr. Luke's writings? Why did he choose to write these books?
Read Acts 1:1 – 2. What does Luke say he wrote about in his first book? Why does he take time to connect the two books for his readers?
Read Luke 24:13 – 49. This passage records one of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances to his followers. What did Jesus say to these disciples after asking them what they were discussing (verses 25 – 26)? Why didn't they believe it was really him (verse 41)?
What did Jesus do to help them believe (verse 45)? What do you think this means?
Whom did Jesus say he would send to them? What did he ask them to do (verse 49)?
In the space below, write a prayer asking Jesus to open your mind — just as he did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus — so you will be able to understand the Scriptures in a deeper way than ever before.
Day 2: Mary from Magdala
When it comes to dating and relationships, one question teenagers (and even more so, youth leaders) often ask is, "Do you think young men and young women can be friends?"
It's quite funny, honestly. When we watch preschoolers on the playground, we encourage them to play together, to share, to be nice to the other children in the sandbox — not just the ones of the same sex. But then the hormones kick in, and we adults get VERY NERVOUS that allowing teenage boys and teenage girls to be friends will end badly.
But just look at Mary Magdalene and Jesus. What we read about them in the gospels occurred when Jesus was in his early thirties — and these two young adults have a beautiful friendship from start to finish. Mary must have really mattered to Jesus, as he let her into his inner circle. (As Lisa mentioned in the video, Mary was also the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.) In addition, she must have mattered to our friend Dr. Luke, as he was the one who introduced us to her.
Let's look back at the day Jesus and Mary met. Read Luke 8:1 – 3. What does this passage say about Mary's life before meeting Christ?
A widespread rumor, circulating as early as the fourth century AD, said that our dear Mary was a prostitute. This seems to have happened because readers merged her with the "sinful woman" in Luke 7:36 – 50, whose story immediately precedes Luke's first mention of Mary Magdalene, but there is actually no scriptural basis for this claim. In fact, many historians and theologians believe that Mary's affliction was illness or disease, as opposed to any form of sinfulness — yet so many of us have assumed her sin and labeled her a prostitute.
In what ways can you relate to Mary? Has anyone ever assumed they knew what you were going through? Explain.
Although Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus for years, only Luke mentions her at this point. (She gets a tiny shout-out in Mark 16:9, but it is in regard to the resurrection of Christ.) This gives us the opportunity to do some assuming. Why do you think Mary Magdalene stood out to Luke? Why did he find it necessary to write about her in his gospel account?
All four gospel writers — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — tell of Mary Magdalene being present at the crucifixion (see Matthew 27:55 – 56, Mark 15:40 – 41, Luke 23:47 – 49, and John 19:25 – 27; note that in Luke's account, she is included in "the women" who followed him from Galilee). What does it say to you that Mary is mentioned in all four accounts?
Read John 20:1 – 18. Why do you think Mary went alone to the tomb?
When did Mary recognize Jesus? Why did she cry out when she heard her name?
In John 10:3, Jesus said, "The gatekeeper opens the gate for [the shepherd], and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." How does it make you feel to know that Jesus also calls you by name?
What a beautiful model of a true friendship. Jesus loved Mary; Jesus trusted Mary; Jesus called Mary by name.
Day 3: When Jesus Showed Up
Showing up matters. When we show up for someone, it means we care, we notice, we are FOR them. We get to choose how to spend our twenty-four hours in a day — and so did Jesus. So it is important for us to notice the choices he made and the people he chose to see after his resurrection and before his ascension into heaven. Let's take a look today at ten specific instances recorded in the Bible when Jesus showed up for someone and why they mattered to him.
(1) Read Mark 16:9 – 11. To whom did Jesus appear? Why do you think Jesus appeared to this person first? Why did it matter to this person that Jesus showed up?
(2) Read Matthew 28:8 – 10. What does it say to you that Jesus appeared first to women? What are some emotions you imagine these women must have felt right then?
(3) Read Luke 22:54 – 62. What did Peter do on the night of Jesus' crucifixion? Given this, why do you think it mattered to Peter that Jesus showed up for him (see Luke 24:34)? Why do you think there is so little mention of their interaction?
(4) On Day 1 of the personal study, you read Luke 24:13 – 49. To whom did Jesus first appear in this passage? Why do you think he just showed up and walked along the road with these two unnamed individuals? Remember that Jesus was guiding them, but they didn't recognize him. In what ways has that happened in your life?
(5) To whom did Jesus appear next in verses 36 – 49? What is the first thing Jesus said to them? Why do you think their "joy and amazement" (verse 41) caused unbelief in them?
(6) Read John 20:26 – 31. To whom did Jesus appear? Why did it matter to this man that Jesus showed up? Note that a week had passed between the time the disciples first saw Jesus and when this disciple saw him. What would you guess was going on with Jesus during that time?
(7) Read John 21:1 – 14. To whom did Jesus appear? Why does it matter that Jesus showed up for these men while they were out doing their job? What was significant about what Jesus did for them?
(8) Read Matthew 28:16 – 17. To whom did Jesus appear? What was the purpose of this particular appearance? What did Jesus command these men to do? Why did it matter that they knew Jesus was with them and would be with them?
(9) Read 1 Corinthians 15:6. To whom did Jesus appear? Note that this is the only place in Scripture where this number is mentioned — and it is such a short passing note! Why do you think Jesus chose to gather these people together and speak to them during this forty-day window?
(10) Read Mark 6:3 and 1 Corinthians 15:7. To whom did Jesus appear? What was this person's relationship to Christ? Why is this significant?
Of these ten documented appearances before Jesus' ascension, which one stands out most to you? Why?
Day 4: You Will Receive Power
There are two declarations that Jesus made in Acts 1. What are those two declarations? (Note: Both are listed in verse 8.)
Today we are going to focus on the first declaration: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you." Throughout Dr. Luke's writing, we see what it looks like when the Holy Spirit comes on someone, and this gives us some context to figure out exactly what that power is. There are many other examples in the Old and New Testaments (for instance, David in Psalm 55, and all throughout the Gospels), but we will focus today on Luke and Acts.
Read Luke 1:11 – 18. What did the angel say that John the Baptist would be able to do when he was filled with the Holy Spirit?
Read Luke 1:29 – 35. What did the angel say would happen to Mary as a result of being filled by the Holy Spirit?
Read Luke 1:39 – 41. What happened when Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit? What did she do in response to what Mary told her?
Read Luke 1:67 – 79. What was Zechariah able to do after being filled?
Read Luke 2:25 – 27. What three things was Simeon able to do after he was filled?
Read Acts 2:1 – 4. What did the followers in Jerusalem see when the Holy Spirit came down? What were they able to do when filled with the Holy Spirit?
Read Acts 4:8 – 12. How did Peter respond to the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious elite) after he was filled with the Holy Spirit?
Read Acts 7:54 – 56. What was Stephen able to see after being filled with the Holy Spirit? What happened next?
Which of these instances most resonates with you? Why?
How have you seen the Holy Spirit bring power to you? In what situation in your life would you like to see the power of the Holy Spirit?
Excerpted from Believing Jesus by LISA HARPER, Annie F. Downs. Copyright © 2015 Lisa Harper. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How to Use This Guide 6
Session 1 The Declaration That Define Us 9
(Luke 24:1-53; Acts 1:1 -26)
Session 2 Earth, Wind, and Celestial Fire 31
Session 3 Checkered Pasts Can Make Incredible Preachers 51
(Mark 14:66-72; Acts 2:14-41; 8:1 -3; 9:1-22)
Session 4 What's Mine Is Yours 77
(Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-5:11)
Session 5 Loving More People, More 97
(Acts 6:1-7; 8:26-40; 10:1-11:18)
Session 6 The Need to Be ReGospeled 121
(Galatians 2:11 - 21; Acts 9:26-27; 11:19-30; 15:36-41)
Session 7 Turning Your World Upside Down 145
(Acts 5:17-42; 17/1 -9)
Session 8 Bearing the Chain Because 167
(Acts 28:16- 31)