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Bible Study for the eighth week of the Covid 19 church building closure | Barn Church Kew

Section 1:  Acts 1: 6-14

Prayer:  Open our hearts to the power of your Holy Spirit, loving God.  As we read and wait, may we see more clearly how you would have us live, worship and witness.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

Then the disciples gathered around Jesus and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Background

              This is the second time that Luke has written an account of the Ascension.  At the end of his Gospel, Luke describes how the risen Jesus appears to all the disciples once the travellers to Emmaus had returned to Jerusalem and told their story of how they had met Jesus.  The risen Jesus then explains everything to the disciples, they leave the city and Jesus ascends.  In this version, Luke provides the context of the last conversation that Jesus and his disciples have before his ascension – the establishment of the Kingdom of God.  The rest of the book of Acts will be the working out of Jesus’s response to the disciples’ enquiry.

Some questions

  • Why is the first question that the disciples ask of the risen Jesus about the restoration of the Kingdom?  What are they worried about?  Do they fear that crucifixion and resurrection have somehow changed Jesus’s agenda?  Are they still looking for a physical, political and military kingdom?
  • How polite is Jesus’s response?
  • What is the difference between “authority” and “power”?  God has authority to set dates and times, but the disciples will be given power.  How godlike are we, in God’s general scheme of things?
  • What is that “power” of which Jesus speaks?  Why does it not come immediately?
  • The disciples are given a very clear task – tell everybody about Jesus, starting close to home, then spreading out across the globe.  By the end of Acts, the gospel is being preached in Rome.  However, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be his “witnesses” – what does that mean? (Hint: when a new king/emperor was declared, heralds/witnesses were sent out around the country/empire with the news).  So, what is the difference between us as “witnesses” and royal heralds?
  • Does this command still hold true for us today?  If so, how do we go about it?
  • The disciples could speak from their experience.  They had lived with Jesus for 3 years, and had seen him arrested, knew that he had died, and had seen him alive again.  How much of our personal experience can we bring to bear on our outreach?
  • How helpful is the appearance of the two men in white robes?  What is really going on here?
  • When has a cloud, appearing and disappearing, played a significant role in the history and worship of Israel?  And in the story of Jesus? 
  • Part of a Roman emperor’s progression to immortality was his soul visibly rising to the heavens as he died.  What is Luke saying here about Jesus, given that he is alive when he ascends?
  • Is God really “up there”?  If not, where is God?
  • What is the real difference between heaven and earth?  If heaven is God’s realm, and earth where we currently live, can the two be the same place, given that Christ lived here on earth and the Holy Spirit is alive in us now?
  • How far is “a sabbath day’s journey”?  What is the narrative purpose of that detail?
  • How many people were gathered in that upper room?  Luke specifically mentions several other people in addition to the 11 disciples.  Why?
  • What emotions must Jesus’s mother have been experiencing at this point?
  • What were the contents of these people’s prayers as they stayed together in this upper room?  
  • The disciples were still scared, still apprehensive about the future, and effectively locked themselves away until Pentecost.  What has this to teach us about our current situation?
  • How are we able to be witnesses to the resurrection in this time of lockdown? 
  • What could/should we be doing differently when lockdown finally ceases?
  •   

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  God of our waiting, comfort us in our isolation and fill us with the hope of your good purposes, so that, as you released your Church into the world at Pentecost, we too may be sent forth with joy and your Holy Spirit to talk of all your love has done for us.  Amen.

Section 2: 1 Peter 4: 12-14; 5: 6-11

Prayer:  Loving God, open your word to us as we read, think and prepare to act on what you will teach us.  Give us open hearts and mind to receive your wisdom and challenge.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Background

              These are the closing remarks in the first general letter attributed to Peter, which was to be circulated amongst the churches in Northern Turkey.  The intensity of the persecution seems to be greater here than in earlier passages, so the encouragement to stand firm amidst the suffering is increased.

Some questions

  • “Fiery ordeal” sounds alarming.  Just how bad do you think this persecution really is for Christians in this part of the world, at this time?
  • Is it fair to regard every persecution as a test from God?  Is God somehow to blame for this?  Or is it actually the other way round – human cruelty devises evil against the people of God, and God teaches us through that experience?  If so, what is God teaching these people to whom the letter is addressed?
  • Can our current lockdown experience be compared in any way to the situation described in this text?  What is God teaching us, now?
  • The writer suggests that for Christians to experience persecution is a sharing in Christ’s suffering.  How can that work?  Does it make sense?  Can there be any similarities between human suffering at the hands of others and the ill treatment meted out to Christ?  If yes, do you know any examples?  If no, why not?  Was Christ’s suffering in any way different from any other unjustly treated human being?
  • When will Christ’s glory be revealed?  Has it already happened, or are we still waiting for a full revelation of his glory?  If so, what are we looking out for?
  • We are used to the idea of being blessed if we are persecuted – the writer is quoting from the Beatitudes, amongst other sources.  What does the writer mean by “the Spirit of glory and of God”?  Is this different from the Holy Spirit?  The capital letters have been supplied by modern-day translators: they do not exist in the ancient texts.
  • Does the notion of the “Spirit of glory” broaden your understanding of the Holy Spirit?  If so, how?
  • Why should we humble ourselves under God, during a time of persecution?  Surely it must be hard to be arrogant or assertive when we are suffering.  What exactly does the writer mean?
  • The promise that God will lift us up in due course has always been part of God’s dealings with humanity.  Christ repeats that in the Beatitudes, Mary sings about it in the Magnificat.  Have we ever experienced it?  Can we look forward to such a lifting up when our current restricted lifestyle reverts to some sort of normality?  If so, how will it feel or what will it look like?
  • “… the God of all grace …  will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” Do we yearn for this to come to fruition?  Is it realistic or just rhetoric to encourage a struggling church?
  • The last sentence might seem a little strange, “To him (ie. the God of all grace) be the power for ever and ever.”  Does not God have all power, eternally, anyway?  Why talk of power and God in this context?  Does this power differ from the power promised to the disciples in the above passage from Acts? If yes, how?  If no, just how great is the power of the Holy Spirit that has been released to us?
  • Does all this strike a particular chord during this current crisis?

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  God of all power and authority, shield us with your mighty hand, sustain us with your loving presence, and lift us up to the heights of heaven in your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen

Section 3: John 17: 1 – 11

Prayer:  Loving God, as we read Christ’s prayer for his Church, open our hearts to your grace and wisdom, that we may learn of you, and grow in faith.  Amen.

Read the passage through twice:

Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.  I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 

Background

              John 17 is known as Christ’s high priestly prayer.  It is a summary of the evangelist’s Christology, sometimes in clear language, sometimes in a more convoluted style.  It presents various problems while also giving us much joy and clarity.  The context is still the upper room and the last supper, before Jesus takes his disciples off to the Garden of Gethsemane.  The whole chapter is worth reading from start to finish, but for our purposes this week, these 11 verses are more than enough!

Some questions

  • This prayer comes after 3 chapters of Jesus addressing all those present at the Last Supper.  He has talked about his Father’s house with many rooms, about himself as the true vine, and about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He finishes his teaching with this astonishing prayer.  Does it resemble any of our prayers?  Should it?
  • Which “hour” has come?  Is it the same one that Jesus says had not come when his mother asked him to do something about the lack of wine at the wedding at Cana?  If it is that same hour, how does Jesus know that this is that long-awaited moment?
  • Is it a good thing that the hour has come?  What might Jesus’s emotions be at this moment?
  • What does “glorify your Son” mean?  Why should God do that?  It makes sense for Jesus to glorify his Father, but how can it work the other way round? 
  • Jesus seems to suggest that God has to glorify Jesus before Jesus can glorify the Father.  How can this be?
  • What authority did Jesus have?  Are there examples of this authority in the Gospels?
  • To whom did Jesus give eternal life before this point?  Anybody?
  • “ … this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.  Does this work as a definition of eternal life?  Might our perception of eternal life have to change as a result of reading this?
  • Do we really know God and Jesus Christ?  Can we?  If we can, do we know him better now than when we first believed?
  • Jesus says that he has finished God’s work on earth, but this is not the end of the story: the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection are all to come.  Are they not part of “God’s work”?  If they are, what does Jesus mean here by “finished”?
  • From this point on, two worlds co-exist in Jesus’s words – the realm of God and the human sphere.  Jesus is occupying both, as the Father & the Spirit do, while speaking in the created realm.  Christ’s glory in God’s realm has never gone away, but it has been invisible in the human realm.  Will that glory every be fully revealed in this world?  Do the disciples see it?  Do we the readers see it?  If so, where, and how? And what does it look like?
  • Jesus makes some fairly extravagant claims about the disciples, that they know and understand everything that he has taught them – is this another theoretical/eternal timescale utterance, or is it actually true?
  • Jesus says that he is praying for the disciples, not for the world.  What does that mean?  Is Christ’s intercessory work limited to people who acknowledge him and know him?  In which case, are we included?
  • This concept of “the world” can have two meanings.  Jesus says that the disciples are in the world, and that he won’t be in the world for much longer, so that sounds like the physical, created world.  But when Jesus says he is not praying for the world, but for the disciples, he means something quite different.  What?  And what could be the consequences of that difference?
  • Is it comforting to know that the disciples (and therefore us, by extension) belong to God?
  • How on has glory come to Jesus from his disciples?  They consistently fail him, misunderstand him and in the coming hours, will both betray and deny him and abandon him in his hour of greatest need.  Or is Jesus talking about something else?  If so, what?
  • God’s name is powerful, the greatest source of truth and light in the world.  Jesus asks his Father to protect the disciples – and us, by extension – by the power of that name.  Do we feel protected to that extent?  The God of all creation protects us, according to Jesus.  Do we actually believe that?  If we do, how does it colour our behaviour?  If we don’t, why not?
  • “ … so that they may be one as we are one .. “  This is where this whole passage has been heading – the unity of God’s people, the unity of the Church.  It is potentially one of the most wonderful prayers ever uttered, and also the most despairing, that it has to be uttered at all.  Christian unity is a longed-for goal, from the very early days of the Church.  There is harsh realism in this prayer – that humanity is not capable of such unity without the direct intervention of God, and even then we will mess it up.   
  • Do we keep pressing for this unity?  Will it ever arrive?  If it does, what will it look like?  And how much are we involved in its realisation?
  • To what extent is this prayer actually a prayer?  How much of it is teaching for the Church?  Can such a prayer actually be prayed by a human being?
  • If this prayer was actually prayed at the last supper (in those days, everybody prayed out loud, wherever they were), how would the disciples have reacted to its content?
  • Is this prayer comforting/challenging/helpful?

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  God of love, you glorified your Son in his life, death and resurrection, and share that glory with your Church.  Help us today to live as those who have been extraordinarily loved, that we may reflect your glory to everyone