“The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prayer. Only when we are full of the Spirit do we feel the need for God everywhere we turn. We can be driving a car, and spontaneously our spirit starts going up to God with needs and petitions and intercessions right there in the middle of traffic.” (Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, p. 58)
Through the filling of the Holy Spirit, Peter preached to curious crowds on the day of Pentecost and saw great results. The new community of believers was established with great joy and unity. Then came the tests—from the Jewish authorities and from within that same community of believers.
Do you enjoy being tested? Most of us do not. Testing is a significant part of the learning process, including the growth of a Christian to spiritual maturity. God’s method of teaching seems to be: 1) prepare by instruction, 2) learn by experience. The test. In the case of the early church, the test was whether or not they would trust God in the midst of trial and humble themselves to live in dependence on Him through prayer. This is what the prophets, down through the centuries, had told them to do. When under attack, when facing a new challenge, in all seasons, in all times, call on the name of the Lord, and He will help you.
The writer of Hebrews nails down this most central activity for Christians, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).” For Christians in any troubled times, there is simply no other way.
Read Acts 3:1-5:11 in one sitting to get the whole picture. As you do, read it thoughtfully—as a love letter. Pray that God would open your heart to the truths He has for you from this text.
1. Discovering the Facts: Describe the beggar and his life experience as he encountered Peter and John.
2. Share Your Life: What do you think it would have been like to lie around for a day in his “sandals?” Have you ever been “laid up” for an extended period of time? If so, describe the experience.
3. What did the beggar think was his most pressing need (v. 3)? What need did the apostles address? Why?
4. What were the results?
5. Share Your Life: Like the lame beggar that was healed, do your requests from God typically focus on His meeting your physical needs? Why? Remember, He desires to do infinitely more than we can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:19-20). What should you change about how you pray?
Think About It: There’s so much to want—healed bodies, restored relationships, changed circumstances. But asking, seeking, and knocking aren’t secret formulas for getting what we want from God; they’re ways to get more of God. As I listen to God speak to me through his Word, he gives me more of himself in fuller, newer ways. Then, if healing doesn’t come, if the relationship remains broken, or if the pressures increase, I have the opportunity to discover for myself he is enough. His presence is enough. His purpose is enough. If you truly want to move God’s heart, put aside secret-formula prayer and instead begin to practice prayer that seeks the Giver more than the gifts. (Nancy Guthrie)
6. Read Hebrews 2:3-4 and Mark 16:20. Look ahead to Acts 3:16, 4:9-10, and 14:3. What are some of the reasons God chose to perform miraculous signs through the apostles and others?
Scriptural Insight: The scriptures teach that God does miracles out of His kindness (Acts 4:9) and love. Miracles also have another specific purpose—to authenticate the message and thus the messenger (John 14:10-11).
7. Discovering the Facts: To whom is Peter speaking this time? Where? What is similar in this sermon to the one Peter preached on the day of Pentecost?
Scriptural Insight: There was no confusion in the minds of the first Christians about what to proclaim. There was no searching for new and novel messages. The plain gospel was considered entirely adequate. (Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, p. 105)
8. Share Your Life: The Jews thought they were rid of Jesus, but Peter announced that He is alive indeed. Peter’s message is true! How should this affect your life today?
9. What titles did Peter give to Jesus in 3:13-15? Considering his audience, why do you think he chose those?
10. Share Your Life: What are some of your favorite names for Jesus? How might knowing and understanding His many names enrich your worship?
Deeper Discoveries: Peter calls Jesus God’s Servant in 3:13 and says, “God announced beforehand by the mouth of prophets that Christ should suffer” (3:18). Isaiah was one such prophet. What do you learn about Jesus as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12? How did He serve us?
11. What do you learn from Acts 3:19-21 that adds further information to what is revealed in 1:6-11?
Focus on the Meaning: The time spanning the inauguration of the church at Pentecost to the time when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom is often called the “church age” or the “until” time. Read Psalm 110:1. This is the most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament.
12. Share Your Life: Read Acts 4:4 to see the audience response to Peter’s sermon. God has now used Peter to influence about 5,000 to put their faith in Christ. Who did God use to influence you? When was the last time you expressed your gratitude? Why not write a message or pick up the phone?
13. Discovering the Facts: List the sequence of events in 1-22.
14. Why did the Jewish authorities arrest Peter and John? What did the Holy Spirit declare to them through Peter (vv. 8-12)?
Historical Insight: The Jewish authorities were the members of the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jews. In New Testament times, it was made up of three kinds of members: chief priests, elders, and teachers of the law. Its total membership numbered 71, including the high priest, who was presiding officer. Under Roman jurisdiction the Sanhedrin was given a great deal of authority, but they could not impose capital punishment. (NIV Study Bible, p. 1526)
15. Share Your Life: In light of today’s diversity of philosophies and religions, what does Acts 4:12 definitively declare? Is this what you believe? Why or why not?
16. What evidence was directly before the authorities? How did they respond to the evidence and to the message given to them?
Scriptural Insight: Through the angel Gabriel, God told both Mary and Joseph to name their son Jesus. The name Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means “the LORD saves.” Further support of Jesus being the only way to salvation is found in Acts 10:43, John 14:6, and 1 Timothy 2:5.
17. Share Your Life: No one can dispute genuine evidence of change in a person’s life after being with Jesus. Can you recall a time when someone noticed that you have been with Jesus? What did you say or do that they noticed? How did they respond?
18. How did Peter and John respond to the judgment given in 4:18?
19. Share Your Life: As Peter and John are on trial before the same men that put Jesus to death, how did they face persecution? Have you ever faced persecution for your faith? Did you do so with fear or courage? Read Romans 8:15. How does this verse encourage you? Trust Him for that.
20. In response to all that had happened to them, what did Peter, John and the rest of the believers do? What was the content of the prayer?
Scriptural Insight: The baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs once, at salvation (Romans 6:3-4); the filling of the Spirit occurs repeatedly as needed and as we are yielded to Him (Acts 4:8, 31; 6:3-5; Ephesians 5:18). Here, their spirits were completely under the control of the Spirit; their words were His words.
21. How does God answer their prayer?
Think About it: Prayer cannot be taught by principles and seminars. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, I ought to pray, “I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong. I have to be driven to pray. The more we pray, the more we sense our need to pray. And, the more we sense a need to pray, the more we want to pray. When the apostles were unjustly arrested, they didn’t call for a protest or some political leverage. Instead, they headed to a prayer meeting. (Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, p. 49-50, 73)
22. Share Your Life: The early church prayed together consistently as though it were necessary and not optional. Is that how you view prayer?
§ What drives you to pray? Are you willing to be driven to prayer by the Holy Spirit’s prompting in your life?
§ Are you regularly praying together with other believers as a priority in your life? If so, how has that benefited your spiritual growth? If not, why not?
Deeper Discoveries: Research the use of the word “filled” and “full” in the New Testament. How is it used? What does it mean to be “filled with” or “full of” the Holy Spirit? What would it look like in someone’s life to be filled with the Spirit?
In this next section, Luke introduces us to Barnabas who will play a later role in the Book of Acts. Luke also contrasts the generosity of the majority of the church driven by the Holy Spirit’s control in their lives with the behavior of two members who were not.
Here (v. 11) is the first use of the term “church” in the book of Acts, referring to a local congregation (also 8:1; 11:22; 13:1) or the universal church (20:28). The Greek word for “church” (ekklesia, “called out ones”) was already being used for political and other assemblies and for Israel when gathered in religious assembly. (NIV Study Bible, p. 1652)
23. Compare the heart attitude of Joseph (Barnabas) with that of Ananias and Sapphira. [Note: giving the money was voluntary, not compulsory like paying taxes.]
Scriptural Insight: “Satan filled your heart” (v. 3) — the verb translated “filled” contains the idea of control or influence. The same verb is used in the command, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Ananias was at that moment being influenced by Satan, not the Spirit. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 365)
24. Share Your Life: Have you ever given up anything voluntarily to benefit someone in the church? If so, how did you feel? Describe the experience.
25. Peter exposed the sin of Ananias and Sapphira as deceit (v. 3) and testing the Spirit of the Lord (v. 9). God determined and enacted the discipline needed at this time. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Paul recounts what God’s purpose is in discipline such as this. What conclusions does Paul reach, and what comfort does he give?
26. Share Your Life: Similar to Ananias and Sapphira, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for having an external appearance of spirituality while having hearts that were far from God. Are there areas of your life in which you are attempting to appear spiritual but have a heart that is far from God?
Think About It: Ananias, in the effort to gain a reputation for greater generosity than he had actually earned, tried to deceive the believing community, but in trying to deceive the community he was really trying to deceive the Holy Spirit, whose life-giving power had created the community and maintained it in being. So real was the apostles’ appreciation of the presence and authority of the Spirit in their midst. (F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 105)
Review the scripture passage covered in this lesson for evidences of the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. What will you ask God to do in your life?