Challenge 15 The first Christians

CONTENTS

 The story shown in bold is explored in full in the Big Bible Challenge book www.scriptureunion.org.uk/shop

 Stories in this challenge

Holy Spirit Day                    Acts 2:1–13

Peter helps a man                 Acts 3:1–10

Stephen                                  Acts 6:8–15

Good news about Jesus      Acts 8:26–40

Good news for everyone      Acts 10:23b–33

 

COMMON tips for this and every challenge

  • Always have a Bible in a child-friendly translation available, as you take the Big Bible Challenge. Even when the Bible verses are printed in the Big Bible Challenge book, find them in a Bible as well. This will help the child gain confidence in handling the Bible and become familiar with its size and number of pages.
  • Finding your way around the Bible can be a challenge in itself! Each reading from the Bible is shown in a certain way, like this:

Genesis 2:15–22.

  • Use the Index or Contents page of the Bible to help you find the book (or books) in the Bible for the readings in this challenge. In this example, the book title is ‘Genesis’.
  • Each book of the Bible is in chapters. In this example, the reading is in chapter 2.
  • Each chapter is split into verses. In this example, the verses are 15–22. In most Bibles, the verse numbers are printed very small.
  • Many of the challenges have five readings from the same part of the Bible, so use a bookmark to keep your place and it will be easier to find the Bible reading next time.
  • The Bible consists of many ‘books’ collected together and presented as one. See if you can work out what sort of ‘book’ you are exploring: is it history or is it a letter? Are you reading words spoken by a prophet or written as a song?
  • Spend time looking at and chatting about the artwork in the Big Bible Challenge. Find out more online in ‘How does the Big Bible Challenge work?’
  • When you have finished this challenge, use the simple evaluation sheet [here: hyperlink]. Find out more online in ‘How does the Big Bible Challenge work?’

 

 

COMMENCE: your introduction to this part of the Bible

Jesus had promised his followers that they would receive new power and that is what happened! At Pentecost, there is a dramatic outpouring of the Spirit, resulting in courage for the believers and mass conversions amongst the crowds who had gathered from far and wide for the feast. The weak and faltering group of believers is transformed into a close-knit community and a powerful force for mission. The outpouring of the Spirit immediately results in a significant move forward. All those present hear the praises of God in their own language – a further fulfilment of the promise to Abraham.

The disciples begin putting into practice what Jesus had taught during his earthly life. On the one hand, there were amazing demonstrations of power; on the other, there was a complete sense of unity and mutual care amongst the believers. As the church grows it becomes a community of teaching, prayer, fellowship and the celebration of Jesus’ death. Their community life sustains them but this is no closed community; it has mission at its heart. It meets in public (Acts 2:46). Whenever the opportunity arises, they draw attention to Jesus (Acts 2:22-33; 3:1-16). They will not stop speaking about him (Acts 4:18,20, 27-30).

In their different ways, Stephen and Philip continue reaching out in Jesus’ name; persecution merely opens up new possibilities. Peter has a life-changing vision, through which he comes to understand that God now wanted Gentiles as well as Jews to have the opportunity to become members of his holy nation. Cornelius is the first sign that the promise to all nations has been fulfilled.

 

CONNECT: the five stories in this challenge

These stories all come from the beginning of Luke’s second ‘history’ book. In his first, Luke’s Gospel, he tells the story of Jesus, and in this book, The Acts of the Apostles, he continues with what happened to Jesus’ followers after his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven. These particular five stories show how the church was born and began to grow. They should be read in the chronological order given here.

Right from the start Jesus’ followers were keen to invite others to hear and respond to the good news but, although the explosion of church growth on the day of Pentecost and immediately afterwards was impressive, it all happened in Jerusalem. As we read these stories, we begin to see how the message of Jesus was spread to different parts of the country and, indeed, beyond the boundaries of Judaism.

 CONSIDER: what this challenge means today

Many surprising things happen in these stories – people suddenly speak in other languages, a lame man walks, a faithful and valuable servant of God is allowed to die, an amazing set of coincidences in the desert mean that a stranger finds God, and lifelong customs are abandoned in an afternoon. All these things remind us that life as a follower of Jesus will always be exciting, adventurous, and never dull. God will always have surprises for us and we can never know in advance how he will work things out. He knows what he is doing, even when things look bad: persecution allowed the gospel to move out of Jerusalem and to spread across the world.

Although we know in theory that we can trust God to work things out, we have to be ready to step out in faith and these stories illustrate the bravery that we need. In faith, Peter said ‘stand up and walk’, trusting that the man would; later, he went to the house of the Gentile (non-Jew) Cornelius in spite of a lifetime of being careful not to do this. Stephen preached in the face of opposition, and Philip went off to the middle of nowhere because God prompted him.

The empowering and guidance of the Holy Spirit is evident in these stories. They remind us that as Christians we can be sure that we have his help too.

 


CLARIFY: issues that may arise from this challenge

Why was it so amazing for a Gentile (non-Jew) to become a Christian?

Ever since Abraham’s time the Jews had always known that they were God’s chosen people, worshipping and obeying him, and living a different lifestyle to the other nations around. Other people were welcome to join them in worshipping God but they had to become Jews first. Through the story of Cornelius, Peter realised that this wasn’t necessary. Anybody could become a worshipper of God. In fact, God had always said the whole world would be blessed by his people, the Jews.

What does ‘eunuch’ mean?

A eunuch was usually a trusted advisor and confidant to a leader. Sometimes an operation would be performed on the eunuch (perhaps from an early age) to ensure that he couldn’t father children. This would mean that he could give all his time and loyalty to the king or queen whom he served.

 

 

COMMUNICATE: talk with God

Before Jesus returned to heaven, he gave his disciples a job to do: they were to tell everyone about him. God sent his Holy Spirit to give them the power to do that, along with gifts of healing, wisdom, teaching and evangelism. Jesus’ followers have been telling others about him for nearly 2,000 years – and he wants us, too, to continue this work.

Help your child to make a list of some people who do not know Jesus. This could be people you know or people who live nearby or in your area. (For this challenge, try to keep your prayers local: in Challenge 16, the prayer focus will be on Christian missions and aid work in distant countries and different cultures.) Pray together for these people and for opportunities to tell them about Jesus.

As you chat, you may find that your child is experiencing difficulties at school or elsewhere because of their Christian beliefs or because they go to church, Sunday school or a Christian club. Encourage them to talk about it and ask the Holy Spirit to give them strength and courage, as he did to the disciples. (Draw on the wisdom and advice of local schools workers or chaplains to see how best to support your child. It’s easy to underestimate how tough it can be for children living as Christians in school, day by day.)

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