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Lesson 9: The Great Controversy and the Early Church *

Introduction: Two weeks ago we learned that the central foundation for our Christian life is understanding the nature of God. He cares for us more than loving parents care about their children. Getting that straight is fundamental. Another central truth is how to understand and follow God's will. Our study this week turns to that fundamental. Let's dig in and see what the Bible has to say to us!

  1. Bone Heads

    1. Read Acts 1:6. I love to talk about this text because it is so remarkable. Jesus is literally rising into the air to return to heaven, and this last question tells Him what about the crew that is going to take His message to the world? (It tells Him they do not understand! They thought that Jesus was overthrowing the Romans, creating a kingdom here, and installing them as rulers.)

      1. Could they have been more wrong?

    2. Let's read the context for this bonehead question. Read Acts 1:1-5 and Acts 1:7-8. What is the cure for this terrible misunderstanding? (The baptism of the Holy Spirit.)

      1. What is the great need for those who want to understand and do God's will? (The baptism of the Holy Spirit.)

    3. Read Acts 2:1-4. Contemplate what it would be like to be in that room. Do you think the disciples had any doubt that they had been filled with the Holy Spirit?

      1. Should we expect something like this or not?

      2. The understanding that our God lives in us is one of the most distinctive doctrines of Christianity. If God does not live in you, consider whether you have "bonehead" beliefs that have not been corrected?

    4. Read Acts 2:5-11. Put aside the miracle of this, what do you think is the goal of the Holy Spirit in this event? (To bring understanding to those who may have difficulty understanding the language spoken by Galileans. The Holy Spirit grabs their attention, and then helps them understand. Notice that this is precisely what the Holy Spirit was doing for the disciples - helping them understand.)

  2. Controversy

    1. Read Acts 4:1-4. What is the problem with the preaching of Peter and John? (If Jesus was resurrected, it conflicted with the "no life after death" views of the Sadducees. It also had a great deal to say about the merits of killing Jesus.)

    2. Read Acts 4:5-8. What role does the Holy Spirit play here? (He guides Peter's message to the top leaders of the country.)

      1. Will the Holy Spirit keep us out of controversy? (Apparently, steering clear of controversy is not the goal.)

    3. Read Acts 4:9-14. Contemplate Peter's address. How is the Holy Spirit aiding him? (First, the Holy Spirit healed the "cripple" who makes Peter's argument "bullet-proof." Second, the Holy Spirit gives Peter a bold, powerful and logical speaking ability.)

      1. Have you ever experienced this - that the Holy Spirit works with you to make your efforts surprisingly great?

      2. Notice what the Holy Spirit is accomplishing. He straightens out in the minds of the disciples the misunderstanding of Jesus' words. He brings attention to the message of the disciples. He brings boldness and clarity to the disciples' message. He helps the people to understand the message. He brings conviction to the hearers - which causes them to either accept or be quiet.)

    4. One of the church leaders, Stephen, is arrested for sharing the gospel. He recites the rebellious history of God's people. Read Acts 7:54-60. What additional lesson do we learn about being filled with the Holy Spirit? (Your Spirit-filled message may make others so furious that they are willing to kill you.)

      1. Let's examine one part of the back story for Stephen's death. Read Acts 6:8-11 and Acts 6:13-15. What kind of witnesses have we here? (False witnesses who have been "persuaded" to lie.)

      2. Re-read Acts 7:57-59. Who is taking off their good clothes so that they can do a better job stoning Stephen? ( Deuteronomy 17:6-7 indicates that these false witnesses were the ones who threw the first stones to kill Stephen.)

        1. Will the Holy Spirit protect us against all injustice? (The Holy Spirit gave Stephen a forgiving attitude. Acts 7:60. But, He did not keep Stephen from death here on earth at the hands of wicked people.)

  3. Prejudice Correction

    1. Read Acts 10:1-2. What kind of religious beliefs does Cornelius hold? Is he a convert to Judaism? Is he a Christian? (He is not an idol worshiper. He worships the true God. Acts 10:36 suggests that he was aware of the life and teachings of Jesus.)

      1. What does it mean that he was "God-fearing?" (He wanted to do God's will.)

    2. Read Acts 10: 3-6. What has God noticed about Cornelius? (His good works!)

      1. Would God be able to notice these things about you?

    3. Read Acts 10:9-14. What forms the basis for Peter's reluctance to have a good meal? (Leviticus 11 describes which animals are acceptable for food and which are not because they are "unclean." Peter tells the voice in the vision that he would "surely not" eat the unclean animals.)

    4. Read Acts 10:15-16. Why do you think this happened three times?

      1. Is Peter resisting the direct command of God three times?

    5. Read Acts 10:17. Why is Peter wondering when the voice from heaven is so clear? (He has a conflict between the written word of God, and what this voice from heaven is saying to him. Peter is wondering because he believes that the Bible and the voice from heaven would not contradict each other.)

    6. Read Acts 10:18-20. We now have the Holy Spirit telling Peter not to "hesitate to go" with the men from Cornelius. Why would Peter hesitate?

    7. Peter goes with the men to visit Cornelius. Read Acts 10:25-29. What is the answer to the question of why Peter would hesitate? (He says it is against "our law.")

      1. What law is that? (Robertson's New Testament Word Pictures reveals that visiting Gentiles was not contrary to anything in the Old Testament. This was simply a rabbinical teaching which had become a custom.)

      2. What does Peter now understand about the meaning of the unclean animals and the voice in the vision? (That God is not talking about animals, he is talking about humans.)

        1. Why would God not show a bag being lowered with a bunch of Romans in it? Why complicate the message? (He wanted Peter to puzzle over the issue. That would help the lesson to stay with him.)

    8. Read Acts 10:30-33. What does this teach us about new understandings? (It shows that God will confirm His instruction when we agree to follow God in a new way that might be uncomfortable.)

    9. Read Acts 10:34-38. Notice that Peter says that they already "know" about the life of Jesus and the gospel. If they already know, why do they need Peter to speak to them? (Two things. First, they need to know more. Second, this is also for Peter's benefit. Peter now understands that Christianity is not just a "Jewish" religion, it is a faith to be embraced by the world.)

    10. Read Acts 10:39-40. What is the missing piece of the education of these Gentiles? (They do not know about the resurrection - the solution to sin and the hope of everlasting life!)

    11. Friend, do you see the work of the supernatural in the early church? The Holy Spirit clarifies, convicts of truth and does miraculous things. God speaks to Peter to help him understand the reach of the gospel. Are you looking for the Holy Spirit to fill you and lead you? Are you looking to partner with the supernatural to promote God's word? Why not ask God, right now, to fill you with His Spirit?

  4. Next week: Paul and the Rebellion.
* Copr. 2016, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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