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

Section 1: Acts 2:22-32

Prayer:  Loving God, in these days of resurrection, teach us to understand your ways, and to get to grips with the implications of Christ’s resurrection, both for his disciples and for us, today.  Amen.

Read the passage through twice:

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:   “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

 29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

Background

This passage is part of Peter’s address to the crowds on the morning of Pentecost in Jerusalem.  Pentecost is the first festival after Passover, the festival of the barley harvest.  The weather would have been warmer than at Passover, so the crowd would have been made up of Jews who had travelled from across the Roman world to be in Jerusalem for this special day.  The disciples had received the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire and a rushing wind, and had starting telling everybody they could find about Jesus.  Peter takes the lead, and preaches this very fine sermon.  It is only 50 days since the resurrection, 10 days since Jesus ascended into heaven, and suddenly the disciples are equipped by the Holy Spirit to preach and to explain what the whole life of Jesus Christ was about.

Some questions

  • Peter relies on the personal experiences of both the crowd and his fellow disciples to make his points.  Are you as confident as he is in your knowledge of the life of Christ?  Could you point to events in the Gospels as evidence of who Christ is?  If so, which ones?
  • Peter then turns the crowd’s knowledge of what Jesus had done and the sort of person he was against them, as he holds them responsible for Christ’s suffering and death.  Is this fair, given the more diverse make-up of the crowd?
  • Peter’s main purpose in his sermon is to communicate the message of Christ’s resurrection.   He draws a sharp contrast between God’s gift of Christ to the world, and the world’s response to Christ.  However, whatever humanity has done, God’s power overcomes humanity’s actions – “God raised him from the dead”.  God is at work, God is behind the message that Peter and the disciples are bringing.  If God is in control – giving Christ to the world as a gift, raising him from the dead – how come God did not intervene during Christ’s passion?
  • Peter quotes from Psalm 16, which had traditionally been accepted as written by King David.  The psalmist glories in the strength of his God, who gives him confidence in this life and in the next.  Is it fair to attribute these lines to a prophetic vision of the Messiah?  Or is Peter “backfilling” – ie reading Old Testament texts in the light of New Testament events?
  • The last sentence is the crucial part of this sermon.  Peter states boldly and openly that he and his ten comrades are witnesses of Christ’s physical resurrection.  How much courage did he need to say this?  What could have been the consequences if this had gone wrong?
  • As sermons go, would this have convinced you?
  • How does this sermon speak to us today?  Are we looking for a resurrection, as we live through the lockdown associated with the Covid 19 outbreak? 
  • Could we speak as boldly as Peter?

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, in Christ you make all things new.  Fill our hearts with love for him, and our souls with the fire of your Holy Spirit, that we may walk in your ways and commend Christ to the world.  Amen.

Section 2: 1 Peter 1: 3-9

Prayer: God of joy and encouragement, open these words to our hearts, and our souls to the delight of resurrection, that we may understand your purposes, and live in the light of your salvation.  Amen

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Background

              This general letter, addressed to faithful Christians across what is now northern Turkey, is a rallying cry of hope amidst persecution and hardships experienced for the sake of the Gospel.  The Church is suffering, and the writer, who identifies himself as the Apostle Peter, encourages the new Christians to stand firm in their faith, to persevere through opposition, and to rejoice in the goodness of God, whatever the circumstances. 

Some questions

  • What is the overall tone of this text? 
  • Would you like to receive a letter that starts like this?
  • List the positive ideas against the negative circumstances – which list is longer?  Why?
  • Trace the tenses through the text.  The first sentence is in the past tense – what God has done – the second sentence is in the continuous present – “is being kept…”  The third sentence is in the active present “now”, with subjunctives “may”, which balance out negative and positive possibilities over the remaining text.  The final sentence is written in the continuous present, but very much focussed on the future “you are receiving…”  Our faith is for now, for the present moment.  God in Christ has done all the hard work in the past (Holy Week and Easter) and everything that God has promised is available to us now, as well as the anticipation of glory.  Does this ring true?
  • There are some fine lists in this text – the writer piles up attributes and promises of God in Christ that are freely bestowed on us in our current faith situation.  Is it easy or difficult to identify with these lists?
  • How encouraged are you by what the writer has to say?  Is this simply a boost, or is there something deeper and longer-lasting in these phrases?
  • There is a lot of rejoicing in these lines.  How easy is it for us to rejoice in God at the moment?  Should we be rejoicing in God, whatever the circumstances?  What impedes that rejoicing?  Should we overcome those obstacles, and if so, how?
  • How close is the future of which the writer speaks?  Does his description of heaven seem a distant experience, or close by? 
  • We live in difficult and worrying times.  Hope is central to our pulling through together.  How can these sentences bolster our hope?

Review

  • What has this passage taught you about
  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  Encourage us, generous God, in our faith.  Lift us up from despair to hope.  Refine our actions into godly living.  Keep us safe through uncertainty.  Enable us by your Holy Spirit always to rejoice in you.  Amen

Section 3: John 20: 19-end

Prayer: Open our hearts, Lord Jesus,to your words of love and grace.  Help us as we read and study to hear you speaking to us, today.  Amen

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Background

              This passage takes up the story of the first Easter Sunday after Mary Magdalene has met the risen Jesus.  The disciples are still together, behind locked doors out of fear of further reprisals.  We have to assume that Mary Magdalene has been to tell them of her encounter with the risen Jesus, but there is not much evidence that it has sunk in.

Some questions

  • Are the disciples right to be together behind locked doors?  Are their fears justified?
  • Jesus greets them with words of peace.  Is this just the standard “Shalom”?  or is it more?
  • How did Jesus get into the room?
  • Why show the disciples his hands and feet?  And why did that seem to convince them?
  • And why the need to repeat his words of peace after that, when they had obviously recognised him and realised what had happened?
  • The whole thing with breathing the Holy Spirit is John’s version of Pentecost – does it make sense?
  • Breath/Spirit/wind are all the same word and concept in Hebrew, and mostly in Greek, so there is word play occuring here.  It is also a reference back to Genesis 1, to the creative wind and the presence of the Holy Spirit in creation.  Why did the disciples need this sort of wind/breath?  And why immediately link the gift of the Spirit to the forgiveness of sins?
  • We are used to hearing that our sins are forgiven after the Confession – does that take its origins from this text?  If so, Jesus is ordaining Church leaders here, on the first Easter Day!
  • We do not know why Thomas is not with the other disciples, and there is no point in speculating either.  Are his objections to what the others tell him about the risen Jesus fair?  Would you react the same way if you had been there? 
  • We have all come to faith without seeing the nail marks in Jesus’s hands and feet – does Thomas actually put his finger in the holes?
  • What is the full import of Thomas’s declaration, “My Lord and my God!”?
  • Jesus states that we are particularly blessed for believing in his resurrection without seeing him – do you feel that to be true? 
  • If so, has the whole doubting Thomas scenario been constructed for our benefit?
  • If so, how much of this text is history, and how much of it is directed at creating new believers?
  • What is the “life in his name” that we have through believing in the risen Christ?
  • Do you find this text
    • Comforting?
    • Troubling?
    • Confusing?
    • Encouraging?
    • Faith-promoting?

Review

  • What has this passage taught you about
  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  Gloriously risen Christ, shine in our hearts today, take away our fear and strengthen our faith in your good purposes and your ultimate victory over death.  Amen