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September 22, 2021

GOING DEEPER: Acts 3-4 (12-Minute Bible Study)

Our simple Bible study continues with Acts 3-4. The Bible is not just for the pros. We hope you’re starting to see: you can know the Bible for yourself! 

Already in the first two chapters, we have a sense the author of the book of Acts (Luke) is up to something big. The scope of this story includes everyone and everything. Acts is a whole universe kind of book.

Jesus said they would be witnesses.

Luke starts by showing us how the same Jesus he had written about in the Gospel of Luke stuck around after His resurrection for 40 days talking about His kingdom. This same Jesus tells His disciples about the Spirit-imbued power they would soon have in this kingdom. Namely, He said they would be “witnesses.” 

Witnesses, at one level, are people who know something, not just conceptually, but experientially. There’s a big difference between these two kinds of knowing, isn’t there? 

“WITNESSES ARE PEOPLE WHO KNOW SOMETHING NOT JUST CONCEPTUALLY BUt EXPERIENTIALLY.”

For example, I knew how babies were born at a conceptual level before I had any of my own. But I didn’t really know how babies were born until I witnessed it. As a witness to my children’s birth, I experienced my wife carrying them to full term. I was with her throughout the entire labor process. Felt the violence of her grip and heard the pain in her voice as she pushed. I looked on in amazement as my daughter and my sons breathed their first breath and gave voice to their first cries, which sounded to my ears like “hallelujahs.”

Luke wants us to know the people we’re reading about in Acts are people who have that kind of knowledge of Jesus. They were witnesses to the earthly resurrected and heavenly ascended Jesus of Nazareth. That is to say, they were (and are) witnesses that Jesus is God! And they had first-hand, eye-witness experience to the kind of God Jesus is. 

“WHAT WE THINK ABOUT GOD WILL DETERMINE WHAT WE THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING.”

20th-century theologian Karl Barth said, “What we think about God will determine what we think about everything.” New Testament scholar Kavin Rowe suggests that what Luke wants to reveal to the world through Acts is that this particular knowledge—the knowledge of Spirit-empowered witnesses—is inextricably linked to a total way of life.

In other words, Luke wants us to see a Jesus who loves us right where we are, but loves us too much to leave us where we are! Being a Spirit-empowered witness to the reality that Jesus is God has the power to change everything about our world, from the inside out. Or as we will see in Acts 17, witnesses turn the world upside down. But how? We begin to get a glimpse as to how this power works in Acts 3-4.

What Will You Learn from This Blog 

You should be able to answer these three questions by the end of this blog on Acts 3-4:

  1. If being Spirit-empowered witnesses (AKA followers of Jesus) means a whole new way of life, what are some of the obvious marks of that new way of life?
  2. What did Jesus’ first followers do with all the attention they received (positive and/or negative)?
  3. Approximately how many followers of Jesus were in Jerusalem by the end of Acts 4?   

Before We Begin: Acts 2 Recap

Let’s take a quick peek back at what was happening at the end of Acts 2. After repenting, being baptized, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, some 3000 people began to follow Jesus. They devoted themselves to one another and to the apostle’s teaching. They prayed for one another, happily sharing resources with one another. 

But don’t miss these last three things in particular. They’re important to note for what’s about to happen in these next two chapters: 

Another way to say that is: they kept doing the simple things they knew to do, God did the amazing things only He could do, and people were attracted to what was happening. See if you can pick out that same pattern in Acts 3-4.

Listen to Acts 3-4 Readings

For your convenience, I’ve recorded Acts 3-4 for you to listen to them below .

We’ll break up the stories of Acts 3-4 into three sections:

Study the Amazing Miracle — Acts 3v1-10 

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 

And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 

Reflect: The Natural and Supernatural

Would you say Peter and John were Spirit-empowered witnesses here? Certainly. But did they actually do anything supernatural? Look closely.

They were going about their daily routine, head to the Temple to pray, but notice this: they were not too busy to see the one person everyone knew but few people ever slowed down to actually see. They saw his humanity and preserved his dignity. Could these be marks of what it means to be Spirit-empowered witnesses?

Today if I were to say, “he had an infinity stone” or “the force was strong with this Jedi” you’d likely know immediately the epic story I was mapping onto (Avengers or Star Wars, respectively). When Peter said, “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” what epic story was he connecting to? Well, he was connecting to Israel’s ancient redemptive story by the words “in the name of” (meaning under the authority and power of). “Christ” means anointed King or Israel’s Messiah. But “Jesus of Nazareth” indicated this Messiah was a regular man from nowheresville! Those words would have been as meaningless as “bippity-boppity-boo”, except that it worked.  

What Peter and John did was natural. What God did through their bold faith was supernatural. When the formerly lame-from-birth fella started busting a move there in the temple court people were filled with wonder and amazement. Sounds like Acts 2 again, doesn’t it? Peter’s response will be familiar, too. Let’s keep going.

Consider Peter’s Second Bold WitnessActs 3v11-4v10

While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 

“BY FAITH IN HIS NAME HAS MADE THIS MAN STRONG”

But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. 

“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 

“GOD, HAVING RAISED UP HIS SERVANT, SENT HIM TO YOU FIRST TO BLESS OYU BY TURNING EVERY ONE OF YOU FROM YOUR WICKEDNESS.”

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” 

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. 

Reflect: A zig instead of a zag

Luke is such a great storyteller. This is Hebraic literary art. Think back to the narrative arc of Acts 2. Followers of Jesus do normal stuff, God shows up in a miraculous way, people come to check it out. Then Peter preaches a bold sermon, and the people repent! Luke uses the same storytelling vehicle for Acts 3: Peter and John do normal stuff, God’s power is seen, people gather around, Peter preaches a bold sermon… and oops! The story zigs where we expected a zag. They experience resistance — not from the Pharisees this time (as Jesus did His entire ministry), but from the Sadducees (who did not believe in resurrection). Not only are they unimpressed by the miracle, but they’re also angry. Peter and John are thrown in prison … for what now?

Oh, by the way.

Pay attention to Luke’s “oh by the way’s”. He just drops in that about 2,000 more people were saved as a result of the revelation of God’s power and Peter’s second bold witness. “Oh, by the way, we’re up to 5,000 men following Jesus at this point,” he says.

New Testament Scholar Craig Keener says the newest population estimates of the city of Jerusalem was less than 100,000. Of course, that number swelled and contracted with various feasts and festivals throughout the years. But Solomon’s Portico is in a part of the Temple complex in which both men and women, Jews and Gentiles, adults and children, would have gathered. This miracle would have been witnessed and Peter’s sermon would have been heard by thousands. Dr. Keener suggests a conservative estimate for the number of Christians in Jerusalem would have been around 10,000 men, women, and children.

What could God do in and through us, His 21st-century witnesses today?

Down through the last 300 years, we’ve seen such revivals in our own nation. John and Charles Wesley saw the United Methodist movement grow by 1,000x in a short period of time. The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement saw half a billion people come to Christ from 1906 to 2006. What could God do in and through us, His 21st-century witnesses today? 

To finish today’s study on Acts 3-4, simply read the end of the story. See how the power of Jesus name rises above the conflict and draws people to the kingdom Jesus spoke of.  

Understand the Power of the Name of JesusActs 4v5-37

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

“What should we do with these men?”

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. 

Peter, John, and all their friend’s prayer

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, 

                  “‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
     and the peoples plot in vain?
             The kings of the earth set themselves,
      and the rulers were gathered together,
      against the Lord and against his Anointed’ 

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 

“GRANT YOUR SERVANTS TO CONTINUE TO SPEAK YOUR WORD WITH BOLDNESS”

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. 

“THEY HAD EVERYTHING IN COMMON”

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Reflect: What are the marks of this Jesus’ movement?

Do you see them? People found their worth in the person and work of Jesus by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. As a result, they could go about their ordinary daily lives. They could live with radical hospitality, generosity, and a remarkable kind of love for their neighbor and their adversaries. Their boldness brought oneness and great grace was on them all. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that!

Applying Acts 3-4 to Your Life

Throughout this study, I trust the Holy Spirit brought a couple of opportunities to be generous, hospitable, or to slow down and see people as Jesus sees them. I can’t help but think some of us may feel prompted to repent over something we regretted saying or doing. Maybe you feel compelled to pray for someone in need. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I commend to you–rise and do whatever your good King is leading you to do by His Spirit.

This is the end of our 12-minute Acts Bible Study over Acts 3-4. You’re doing so well!

For Further Study 

Consider the implications of what the Temple meant to Israel’s story. What might Luke be up to by showing this miracle happening outside the Temple? What was that bit Jesus said about the stone the builders rejected? Didn’t Jesus perform a very similar miracle with a blind man outside the Temple (See John 9)? What might have happened that the Sadducees seem to be running the show at the Temple now? What was the significance of Barnabas, a man from the family of the Levitical priesthood who lived off a portion of the proceeds of the other tribe’s land (though they could own their own private land), selling his land and gave it to the people?  

Next Week: Acts 5.

Read last week’s blog: Going Deeper: Acts 2 (12-Minute Bible Study) 

The photo on this blog was taken by our very own photography volunteer, Isaac Martin. Check out more of his work here.

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