This week's Bible Study - October 23, 2016
Acts 2:22-24, 32-33, 36-38
Quotes of the Week:
All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.
About the quote… Is that the unstoppable message?
It is the height of our election cycle right now and some may classify this as the height of insanity. It seems from the highest profile elections to many of the lower elections, the focus has seemed to morph to character attacks and mudslinging. In many cases, if pressed about candidates, all that many of us can relate about candidates is the rhetoric that we have heard from commercials that have largely been paid for by special interest groups.
It seems that it is harder to distinguish between truth and fantasy on social media, as there are links that point to seemingly true stories on multiple websites. We tend to gravitate to stories that support our candidate and shed the opponent in a negative light. The problem is that there are so many stories that say opposing things, it is difficult to know what the real truth is, as many of them are fabricated. It is sad when the message associated with candidates is largely hidden due to character attacks.
In the last lesson, we talked about an unstoppable mission and in this lesson, we talk about the message. There are many different types of "Christian" churches with what seems to be different messages. Certainly, some churches will focus on this or that, but all churches that claim to be Christ following at least should adhere to some basic tenets of a common message. I believe that if we could somehow focus on the commonalities, we would do a lot to reach our world for Christ. However, we tend to focus on the differences, which tends to minimize our impact. In this lesson, we will briefly discuss this basic message that continues to influence millions of people.
This message is based on Jesus of Nazareth. As Peter spoke to the Israelites, they were aware of who he was talking about. Many had not only heard of Jesus, but surely many of them had seen Him. The key point is that Jesus was a historical person. If anyone starts by saying that Jesus was not real, they are following another gospel.
It wasn't just that Jesus was real, but He was accredited by God to them by miracles, wonders and signs. What do you think was the purpose of these miracles? We would like to think that God would send miracle workers that would work miracles. Certainly, Berkley and I would like to think that we would see a miracle and a cure for ALS. You might have your own sets of miracle desires. However, Jesus didn't perform miracles to solve all problems for anybody. He did heal some people, but His purpose was not to heal disease. His miracles were to show He was from God. While we might think we would want the miracle worker, if that was all Jesus did, His name would have been erased from history and He would be considered much like Houdini.
After three years of ministry, in which He taught with authority and performed many miracles, Jesus was handed over and put to death. Many followed Jesus and they thought that they saw potential for an earthly kingdom. When Jesus wouldn't succumb to the wishes of people, they turned against Him. Things seemed to spiral out of control. However, Peter brought up two key points. First, things were NOT out of control as this was part of God's deliberate plan and second, Peter made it clear that all humanity was responsible for putting Jesus to death.
For most other religious leaders, everything ends at this point. They may be revered or serve as a martyr, but there is a burial place. End of story. However, this is where things really pick up for the Christian message. Jesus was crucified and buried, but God raised Him from the dead. It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Christ. Now, in our age of intellect, some are anxious to give other theories. Some said the body was stolen, explaining the empty tomb, but how would they explain how so many people saw Him? Some say that Jesus didn't actually die, and He only swooned. However, the people that put Jesus to death were experts at killing, and Jesus was a high profile case and they would surely ensure He was dead. Additionally, if Jesus had swooned, He would never have looked normal to those who saw Him. Some say that people got mixed up on the tomb's location. This would have been corrected quickly, don't you think? Others said that they were hallucinations, but that theory is also full of holes. It is interesting that others of this time did not question the historic aspect of Jesus's life, death and resurrection.
Peter continued to say that God has raised Jesus to life, and that there were many witnesses. Again, he didn't have opposition that were questioning this fact. He said that Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God, and that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on believers and was responsible for what the crowd was seeing and hearing. Yes, it was Peter but it was Peter full of the Spirit.
Peter, speaking with conviction, once again said that all of Israel could be assured that the God whom they had served had made Jesus, whom they had crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah. Again, the focus was once again on Jesus. The message always has to be Jesus and the Word of God. Some churches seem to lose sight of the main message, by focusing on almost anything else. We need to realize that it is only God's word that will truly impact people's lives.
We read that when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and asked what their response should be. When God is at work in the lives of those who hear the message, there is no need for arm twisting. Sadly, some have tried to use emotion to get folks to make a decision to follow Christ. When the Spirit is at work, the result will be people drawn to respond.
There were two things that Peter said that must be done. First, they were to repent. To repent is more than to feel sorry or to cry about what you have done. The key in repentance is to change your thinking and put Jesus where He needs to be. In truth, there is a time where we put our lives in subjection to Christ and choose to follow Him rather than ourselves. And, there is a daily aspect to repentance and choosing to follow Christ each day. Have you truly repented and are you diligent about following Christ each day? I believe that each of us hits times in our lives when we wonder why God doesn't seem so active in our lives. There can be many reasons, but we should always start by asking ourselves if we have truly repented. This is less about walking down an aisle or taking a class and getting a certificate, but a true life change. Sadly, some have put so much emphasis on something from many years ago, yet their lives are not markedly different from any neighbor. Have you truly repented?
Next, they were told to be baptized. Here is where many will begin to differ in their message. I believe all believers would say that baptism is important, but some would argue just how important. The key aspect, as I have come to believe is the desire to openly identify with Christ. We must be careful lest we put our faith in certificates for classes or baptism, rather than in Christ.
The message is quite simple, but it has life changing implications when you have accepted and responded to the message. Some detractors will point to some believers who have acted in ways contrary to what they say they believe. I am guilty and so are you. We know that we have been redeemed and we know we owe everything to our Lord and Savior, yet we so often find ourselves acting contrary to what we believe. Let us not forget that the message is not about us or any other humans. The message remains the same, despite the imperfect messengers.
In summary, Jesus was a historical person. He performed many miracles and wonders, as signs of who He was. He lived a life of perfection, but was put to death as payment for our sins. However, He arose from the dead, defeating the power of death, and effectively paid the penalty for our sins. He appeared to many people and the fact of his life, death and resurrection was not debated at the time. This is the message and now the question remains as to our response, or perhaps to you as you read. What is your response?
Have you repented or are you still living for yourself, taking your chances at the end time? Having a terminal disease has had me doing a lot of thinking. Don't get me wrong, as I would love for a healing miracle and a cure for ALS in my lifetime. However, I have great security in knowing that Christ died for me and calls me His own. Have you been baptized and identified with Christ? Each of us makes our own decision, but it is important to know where we stand. Our prayer is that the unstoppable message would have unstoppable impact in your life.
One last point that came to my mind in this lesson is that there parts of this that are crucial in reconciliation of relationships. We have a need to reconcile with God by repenting (turning from our wayward ways) and being baptized (identifying with Him). When we experience relationship issues, what might be different if we turned away from behaviors that hurt one another, and somehow identify with one another again? This would not be baptism, but perhaps some sort of acknowledgment that the relationship is intact. Often, this may be simply specifically apologizing for past hurts and asking for forgiveness, or it may be standing up for one another or somehow correcting what has been wrong. We ca be eternally grateful that God's message brings forgiveness, and by extending this to others we often provide a witness of what God has done in our lives.