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Partakers Bible Thought – The Spirit Explodes 06


The Spirit Explodes

Part 6 of 22 – And now for the not-so-good news
(Acts 4:32 – 5:42)
by Roger Kirby

The infant church begins to struggle with both internal problems and external ones. It is rather amazing that Luke tells us about some of the more difficult events. He clearly had a purpose in doing so. We will think about that in a few minutes. We have already commented on the problems of this sort of living. Barnabas, who is going to figure prominently in the expansion of the church, is mentioned with clear approval of what he did. There were huge differences of wealth between the landowners and the working people in those days and this is clearly a comment about how those differences should be overcome within the fellowship of the church.

It also highlights the problem that we read about  in Acts 5:1–11. In this podcast we ask the following questions. To learn more, download the mp3 and listen!

  • Question 1: What exactly did Ananias and Sapphira do wrong? Why was the punishment so harsh? Christians probably do worse things these days. Why are similar punishments not visited upon the offenders?
  • Question 2: Sapphira chose solidarity with her husband over solidarity with the Lord and his people. What are the rights and wrongs in what she did?
  • Question 3: What was Luke’s motive in including this account 40 years after the events recorded when he could so easily have chosen to highlight other more positive events?
  • Question 4: Acts5:13 “no one dared join them” and the next verse “more men and women were added to their number” seem to be saying two contradictory things. What can they mean?
  • Question 5: Apart from a record of the facts what does Luke want us to understand as the significance of what happened?
  • Question 6: Where should we follow what we read here; where the teaching of the verses from Romans?

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Partakers Bible Thought – The Spirit Explodes 05


The Spirit Explodes
Part 5 of 22 – First Signs Of Opposition
(Acts 4:5-31)

by Roger Kirby

Luke now records the beginnings of opposition from the authorities. He probably wrote Acts sometime in the late AD 70s or early AD 80s, that is after the first wave of persecution of the early church under emperor Nero in the AD 60s. Theophilus may have been concerned about the legality of the Christian witness and about the levels of opposition it had aroused. So Luke is intent on showing that these problems had arisen unfairly and how they were handled by the early church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The most important part of this passage is Peter’s speech to the court of the Sanhedrin. Luke has a habit of emphasising a particular event by giving 3 accounts of it. So he tells us about Paul’s conversion 3 times in chapters 9, 22 and 26. He tells us about the dream of Peter that led to the admission of Gentiles into the church 3 times in chapters 10 and 11. Here he records 3 very similar speeches of Peter’s, of which this is the third.
We ask these questions in this study:

  • Question 1: What things has Luke emphasised by recording them 3 times in these speeches?
  • Question 2: By many modern standards that is an incredibly wrong thing to say, suggesting that there is no other way to salvation and heaven. How can we justify what they said?
  • Question 3: How and why were they able to be so effective? What can we learn from the answers to that question?
  • Question 4: Think about where and why that has been done in your situation. Obviously I cannot provide any help on the answers to this question.
  • Question 5: Why did they pray for boldness of speech and not for the opposition to stop?
  • Question 6: Does this arise from what are probably the sharp differences between their prayer and the sort of prayers we probably usually pray, or what?

Download the mp3 and listen to discover more!

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Partakers Bible Thought – The Spirit Explodes 04


The Spirit Explodes
Part 4 of 22 – Healing and challenging
by Roger Kirby

(Acts 2:41 – 4:4)
Luke inserts several summaries of the developing situation into his account of which 2:41 is the first. He then continues his account of those early days of the church in Jerusalem, reinforcing by repetition the points he wants to make.

It is not possible (unless you are very rich!) to live in the way described in these verses for any length of time. Sooner or later the money will run out. Somebody has to work and provide a steady flow of income as Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “if a man will not work, he shall not eat”.

Question 1: Why did Luke tell us about this necessarily limited period in the life of the infant church? What positive things is he stressing by doing so?

His purpose must be his interest in telling us about the positively good things that were being done in that early church. There was clearly a deep concern to learn about the meaning of their new found Christian faith and to live a life worthy of the Lord. It is hard for those of us in the calmer parts of the world to think just how different and difficult that will have been in the world of those days. He is stressing the togetherness of the early church with the richer folk looking after the poorer people amongst them.

The clear picture at the end of chapter 2 repeated at the end of chapter 4 is of a close-knit community sharing their worldly possessions and ensuring that there are no great inequalities of wealth among them. It seems that the natural economic forces of globalism lead inevitably to greater and greater inequalities of wealth distribution. The poor stay poor; the rich get ever richer.

Question 2: What can you do to resist this trend?

Probably not a lot! But each one of us must try to help those who are poor, particularly when it is no fault of theirs.

The second thing he is stressing is how much the early Christians were doing together. They were taught by the apostles what it was all about, together. They worshipped together, including the breaking of bread, or, as we call it the taking of communion. They ate together in each other’s houses. And much of it they did in the temple courts together so everybody in Jerusalem could see and hear what was going on. That must have been a powerful way to attract other people to follow Jesus. True Christian fellowship is not a rushing together for an hour or so every Sunday morning but a much more consistent activity spreading through the week. Think about how you meet and fellowship with other Christians and how you could do so more often and more consistently, to your mutual benefit.

Read 3:1 – 10.

Question 3: You, like Peter, may be short of silver and gold! Peter was able to give healing to the lame man. What can you give to the lame, the lonely, the lost or the lacking?

Notice that I carefully said ‘or’ in my list. Very few of us will ever be able to cover more than one of the list of shortcomings with any effectiveness. What is important is to identify our sphere of competence and to work within it with all a Holy Spirit’s energies. If it is the lame you will likely be a medic; if the lonely you will be active in visiting; if the lost you will be an evangelist; if the lacking you will be a teacher of faith. Which is it for you?

Read 3:11 – 4:4

Peter carefully said “it was not by their own power or godliness we made this man walk”.

Question 4: What does that warn us about?

Too many people preaching round the world are quick to claim that it was their super strong faith or special fullness of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to heal people. It is amazing how much influence those with enough self-confidence can wield on other people. Be careful to look for signs of humility and the giving of all praise to God and the glory of Jesus, as Peter did, in those who would try to impress you – and, indeed, in yourself!

Question 5: Peter called for repentance, stating that it would have past, present and future effects when he said “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out (past), that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (present), and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus (future). Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Which of those aspects:past, present or future, is most attractive to people in your world? How can we ensure that we understand and benefit from all three aspects?

In our world most people are not the least bit interested in repentance because they have no vision of sin as being a serious affront to a Holy God. Any exceptions to that statement are probably only interested in the present anyway. Once we come to a knowledge of Jesus and what he has done for us our interest in the past fades for he has promised to forget our sins – why should we remember them if he does not? We should, however, delight in the promise of a time of refreshing and look ahead in confident assurance that we will eventually be with him in the renewed world to come.

Question 6: What was Peter calling for repentance from? Where does this rank in the list of terrible sins? What, then, can we conclude about the availability of forgiveness from really bad sins?

Peter has just been accusing his hearers of “handing Jesus over to be killed” and “you killed the author of life”. It is hard to think of worse sins than that! We may conclude that no sin is so bad we cannot seek forgiveness from it by exercising true repentance. Amazing.

There is a great promise in what Peter said of “a prophet like Moses”. This prophet will be from “your own people”; he was to be a source of miracle signs like Moses; he was to be listened to. Jesus fitted that prophecy perfectly. Many claims have been made since that somebody or other is this great prophet, but none have been remotely like Jesus or Moses.

Do not follow anyone else!

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Partakers Bible Thought – The Spirit Explodes 03


The Spirit Explodes
Part 3 of 22 – Peter explains and challenges

by Roger Kirby

TThen Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

‘‘Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:

‘“I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

‘Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

‘“The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”
‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:14 – 2:31)

This is a great speech by Peter, or rather two speeches. The first argues convincingly about the meaning of what has happened. The second details the best response to the first one. Luke is only giving us an outline of them, as he says ‘with many other words he warned them’; as we have them they only take about 3 minutes to read right through. The first sets the scene for the whole book and is very cleverly constructed. It starts off defensively, explaining what has happened and what the crowd are seeing by using a quotation from the book of Joel in the OT. Then it switches to the attack explaining why these things have happened with 4 quotations from the book of Psalms.

We read the first speech verses 14 – 37. We shall read Messiah, as in the NIV footnote, at verses 31 and 36. We tend to hear “Christ” as a name but here it is a title or a status and Messiah gives that impression better. The argument of that speech goes like this:
The apparent drunkenness of the disciples is the result of the gift of the Spirit given by the Lord that is by the LORD God of the OT that Joel prophesied about. The crucifixion clearly points to Jesus being the one talked about in Psalm 18 ‘the cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me’ and Psalm 16 refers to the resurrection ‘you will not abandon me to the grave’. Psalm 132 identifies this one as being a descendant of David saying to David ‘one of your own descendants I will place on your throne’. Then Psalm 110 speaks of this descendant as being the Lord. Thus from ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ we have linked through to ‘this Jesus, whom you crucified, is both Lord and Messiah’, from the Lord of the Old Testament to Jesus as Lord. However difficult it may be to have a human being equated with the LORD God that is what has been done and it did not cause any problem amongst those strongly monotheistic people.

Question 1: What explanation is there for how Peter was able to give such a coherent and compelling response to a difficult situation without prior notice when he had so often got it wrong while Jesus was on earth. How far is this an example for us?

This can only have been a product of the 40 days of intensive instruction the disciples received from Jesus between his resurrection and his ascension. We are told not to worry in times of stress because the Holy Spirit will speak for us but it is doubtful whether that will always apply and it is much better to follow the example here with much study of the story and the teachings of the Bible. We should note that Peter talked about Jesus being raised to life only 7 weeks after the resurrection.

Question 2: What was the obvious thing for the Roman and Jewish leaders to have done if they wanted to stop this new movement before it had even started? Why didn’t they? So what?

Producing the body of Jesus would have stopped the new movement. But they didn’t, obviously because they couldn’t! They could have produced a well decayed body and claimed it was Jesus but they didn’t, so the fact of the resurrection must have been well accepted on the streets of Jerusalem. Thus immediately we see that the resurrection of Jesus is the fundamental foundation of all the Christian faith.

Peter made two additions to his quotation from Joel. Joel said ‘I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth’, but Peter said ‘I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below’.

Question 3: Why did he do that?

He wanted to emphasise that his hearers had just seen some of the wonders. Perhaps, too, he wanted to suggest that Jesus was in heaven and that was a wonder.

Peter changed one phrase too. Joel spoke of ‘the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ but Peter changed that to the ‘glorious day of the Lord’.

Question 4: Why did he do that?

Joel had thought that the day of the Lord would be the great final day of this earth as was common Jewish thinking, but Peter realised that that day was happening ahead of the time that everyone had expected.

Question 5: What are the 3 main points that Peter made in this first speech? To give you some clues: a gift, a recent event and a range. What do they mean for us?

Of course you may argue with me saying there are exactly 3 main points! I see them as:

  • That the Spirit was a gift. Promised long before but now given to every follower of Jesus – including you and me!
  • That the central fact on which all else depends is the Resurrection of Jesus. As Paul said later ‘if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile … we are to be pitied more than all men’. This is the solid ground of our faith.
  • That the gift of salvation and the Spirit was to ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’. The promise is to ‘all who are far off’. The range is the whole wide world. That includes you and me! Hooray!

Question 6: Why were Peter’s hearers so upset – ‘cut to the heart’?

Very probably many of those who heard Peter were in the crowd which had cried ‘crucify him!’ not so long before. They would be feeling very guilty.

Now we read the second speech verses 38 – 41.

Question 7: What two things did Peter want his hearers to do? How do we do these two things?

He wanted them to repent and to be baptized. To repent is to change the whole direction and purpose of one’s life. That is not an easy thing to do, but it is within the power of every one of us, particularly with the help of the Holy Spirit. To be baptized may be difficult, particularly if you have already been baptized as a child. Baptism is the sign and seal of the new life beginning. As we shall see as we read on through Acts this usually, but not always, followed repentance and was closely associated with the gift of the Spirit.

Question 8: What two things, one visible and one invisible, will always happen as a consequence of our repentance and beginning of the new life?

We shall receive the gift of the Spirit, which should be clearly evident to those around us, and we shall receive forgiveness of sins, which cannot be seen but will also always happen.

The 3000 people who responded positively to what Peter said that day each began a personal and communal journey. The rest of the book of Acts tells us about that journey, telling us mainly about that of the whole community but hinting at the personal journeys too: the exciting bits, the difficult bits, the nearly impossible bits, the fun bits. That is the way journeys are if they are worth making. If they are just boring they are not worth making. Also – they need a goal. This journey has the greatest of all goals – the immediate presence of our Lord and Saviour.

I hope you are on this best of all journeys – following Jesus.

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Partakers Bible Thought – The Spirit Explodes 02


The Spirit Explodes
Part 2 of 22 – The Gift of the Holy Spirit

by Roger Kirby

Acts 1:14 – 2:13

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’ (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

‘For,’ said Peter, ‘it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘“May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,” and, ‘“May another take his place of leadership.” Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’ So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Acts 2 – The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’

Almost exactly 50 days after their great redemption from Egypt the ancient people of God met him at Sinai. In New Testament times the people of Israel celebrated that day in the feast of Weeks, which brought a great crowd to Jerusalem. We call that day ‘Pentecost’ which means the 50th day.

Before we proceed perhaps we should say something about the Trinity. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had the personal name of YAHWEH, as Moses was told in Exodus 3. In most English Bibles this name is indicated by the word LORD, in capital letters, reflecting the fact that in Biblical times they did not say the name YAHWEH, but substituted their word for Lord. We will say ‘LORD God‘.

The LORD God is referred to in many ways in the OT:

  • as Spirit (Is 63: 7, 10 where we read ‘I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us –
yes, the many good things he has done for Israel’ And then ‘Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.),
  • as Wisdom (Prov 1: 20, 29 where we have ‘Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,’ and then ‘they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.), • as Word (Is 55: 11 ‘my word goes out from my mouth: it will achieve the purpose for which I sent it),
  • as Law (Ps 19: 7 ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.). To a greater or lesser extent these were spoken of, or related to, almost as if they were the LORD himself.

This prepares us for the NT where first Jesus, then the Holy Spirit, are referred to in ways that indicate they are the LORD: the same LORD God but a different person. There is one God but three persons. God the Father is in heaven. Jesus God is with him after effecting our salvation through his death on the Cross, Spirit God is with us in the everyday, mediating the things of God and Jesus to us. The passage we are about to look at today tells us how the presence of the Holy Spirit was signalled to the early disciples. It sets the tone for how we are to understand his presence.

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