Bible Study Tips for the Book of Acts

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Bible Study Tips
for the Book of Acts

By Kevin Halloran

Have you ever felt like having a little guidance in your Bible reading would help you learn and understand more than you currently do?

Or maybe you heard an idea presented in a sermon and thought to yourself, “How on earth could I have missed that?!”

Learning and observing themes in certain books of the Bible can have a tremendous effect on your understanding of the book and whole Bible story.

The book of Acts comes at a special time in the Bible story and there are some unique things to watch out for as you read.

Christ had just risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and given the apostles the Great Commission. How do the disciples combine their experience of the risen Christ, the Old Testament prophecies about Christ, and the call to make disciples of all nations?

Bible Study Tips for the Book of Acts

1. Highlight these three themes in different colors:
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Prayer
  • Witness

The purpose of highlighting these themes is to see how prevalent and powerful each of the themes are throughout the book. When you see the connection between these three themes and the events of Acts, you will see them in a new light and understand what God wants to teach you about them.

Highlighting the Holy Spirit will encourage you to seek more the Spirit’s power in your own life.

Highlighting prayer will drive you to your knees and pray bold prayers to our loving and living God.

Highlighting the bold witness of the apostles will encourage you to be a bold witness and remember the life changing power of the gospel to save sinners.

2. Make note of Old Testament passages quoted.

The book of Acts marks a monumental shift from the anticipation of the Messiah’s coming to the proclamation of the Messiah’s coming. Making note of the use of the Old Testament in the book of Acts will give you insights into the amazing prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ and what the Jewish world was expecting in their Messiah.

This will deepen your appreciation for Christ and your understanding of how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, and how he can claim in John 5:39 that, “All Scriptures testify about Me!”

Example: In Acts 2:14-41, Peter addresses Jews in Jerusalem quoting Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110 to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. The passage ends describing the powerful results: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).

Read the rest here.

Four Ways to Pray When You Feel Like Giving Up

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Four Ways to Pray
When You Feel Like Giving Up

By Colin Smith 

When we face situations of difficulty and danger we always have a choice: Should I stay or should I go? If someone is pointing a javelin at you, like Saul was at David, there’s a pretty good case for running to the hills! 

But we all know that there are times when change is appropriate. We face times when we know that God is calling us to persevere. What we need is the strength to do so. This psalm is for these times. It’s about how to pray when you feel like giving up.

Here are four ways to pray when you feel that nothing is coming of your effort, everyone is against you, and you need to find the strength to persevere.

1. Challenge the voice of fear and frustration.

How can you say to my soul “Flee like a bird to your mountain”? (Psalm 11:1) 

David received some well-meaning advice from his friends , which came out of fear and frustration.  But notice how David challenges these voices: “How can you say [these things] to my soul…?” 

In the Psalms, David not only challenges others’ voices but his own thoughts: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).  

David is speaking to himself. He is challenging himself. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5). He is challenging the disturbance within his own soul.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones often said, “One of our main problems in the Christian life is that we spend too much time listening to ourselves and not enough talking to ourselves.” 

We spend too much time listening to the voices of fear and frustration and complaining. We need to speak to ourselves–we sometimes call this “preaching the gospel to ourselves.” There is no better place to do that than when you come into the presence of God in prayer.

Come into the presence of the Father with Jesus Christ beside you. Tell him what you are feeling and what you are hearing. Bring your worst thoughts into the open, then take yourself in hand, and challenge the voice of fear and frustration right there in the presence of God. 

2. Recognize the hand of God in the testing. 

The LORD tests the righteous… (Psalm 11:5) 

His eyelids test the children of man… (Psalm 11:4) 

Remember, when the foundations are shaken, the hand of God is in the shaking. God says, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Hebrews 12:26). 

What is God doing when he shakes the things that are familiar in our lives? God gives us the reason: He shakes the foundations so that “the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27). 

Read the rest here.

Seven Encouraging Reasons to Pray

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Seven Encouraging Reasons to Pray

By Colin Smith

It may be in a hospital or at some other moment of crisis, but at some time most people feel that they want to pray. That is true of thousands and millions of people who would never darken the door of a church.

Here is something that the church has to offer. Christian people have something that at some point, most people in our community and in our country will feel that they need—to pray. Christians know how to pray, or at least we should.

But do we know why we pray? Here are seven reasons we pray which are meant to encourage you in your pursuit of Jesus Christ.

1. Pray, because Jesus is our great high priest.

We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… (Hebrews 4:14)

If I have to engage in an important conversation, I am often grateful to have someone else with me. Is there someone who can come with me who knows the person I will be meeting better than I do?

Remember this is how Moses felt when God sent him to speak to Pharaoh. God sent Aaron with him. Aaron was the High Priest. Who will go with us when we go into the throne room, not of Pharaoh, but of Almighty God?

Hebrews says “we have a great high priest…” Think about this: Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is there for us. When you pray, you ascend by faith into heavenly places, where Christ is.

Christ is next to the Father, and when you pray, you are next to Christ. He is there for you, and when you speak, he is there with you! He is there, endorsing what you’re saying, placing his name under what you’re asking.

You can come to the Father with Jesus beside you. He is there to support you in your prayer, to back you up in what you are saying, to agree with your prayer because it has already been his own.

2. Pray, because Jesus knows what life is like. 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) 

You can’t bring anything to Jesus that will shock him. Nothing that you face is surprising to Jesus. You don’t need to hide anything from him. Think about the humanity of Jesus: He worked in a shop. He grieved. He saw darkness unleashed like no one else ever has. 

3. Pray, because God invites us to his throne of grace. 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. . . (Hebrews 4:16) 

Bunyan says, “God has more than one throne…” The throne of grace is very different from the throne of judgment. God invites you to come to the throne of grace! How often would you want to pray, if you knew you were coming before the throne of judgment? 

Read the rest here.

Jesus the Son of God—Part 3

Sharing Part 3 of this series today from Unlocking the Bible. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Jesus the Son of God—Part 3

By Colin Smith

It is important to observe that “Son of God” when it is applied to Jesus means something quite different from “sons of God” elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Job 1:6; Mat. 5:9; Rom. 8:14). So how is Jesus’ identity as the Son of God unique?

Our Lord refers to himself as the Son
“No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mat. 11:27).

The Scriptures refer to Jesus as the only Son
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

There is a great difference between the sonship of Jesus, who has always been the Son of God by nature, and the way in which we become the children of God through adoption by grace: “To all who did receive him … he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Read the rest here.

Jesus the Son of God—Part 2

Sharing Part 2 of this series today from Unlocking the Bible. You can read Part 1 here.

Jesus the Son of God—Part 2

By Colin Smith

“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49

In these first recorded words of Jesus, he speaks of God as “my Father.”

Jesus spoke about God as his Father in a way that was quite different from the way any worshiper would speak of God. This difference was quite clear to the Jewish leaders who heard Jesus speak. John tells us that they wanted to kill Jesus because he was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).

There is a special intimacy about the way Jesus addresses God as his Father. We see it in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mat. 26:39). And we see it when he is nailed to the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Read the rest here.

Jesus the Son of God—Part 1

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Jesus the Son of God—Part 1

By Colin Smith

Not only is Jesus Christ the Lord, the Savior, the Messiah, the Redeemer, and the King, but he is these things precisely because he is the Son of God.

1. It was the first announcement of who Jesus is.
The angel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

2. It was confirmed from heaven at Jesus’ baptism.
A voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:17).

Read the rest here.

If Today Was Your Last Day

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

If Today Was Your Last Day

By Benjamin Vrbicek

We’ve all heard some version of the question, “If today was your last day on earth, what would you do?” The question is designed to get us thinking about what truly matters and what doesn’t.

There is a helpfulness to this question, I suppose. I certainly don’t want to spend my last day before seeing Jesus perfecting my yo-yo technique or binge-watching Dora the Explorer.

But to be frank, I find the “last day” question paralyzing. It’s overwhelming to consider all the things that could possibly be done. How does one decide what’s the most effective, impactful, God-honoring thing to do when your toes are on the precipice of eternity? How could I know if it’s better to sneak into North Korea—should it even be possible—and preach the gospel, or to track down all my unsaved friends and family so I can preach the gospel to them? Maybe I should also drain my life savings so I can give it away—but who should I give it to?

I have no idea how to answer these questions. Besides, thinking about the most effective thing to do on your last day seems to me like the silly meme that gets shared online: “Jesus is coming; look busy.”

Does being prepared for the second coming of Christ merely involve some extraordinary acts of obedience moments before he returns?

According to Jesus, it doesn’t.

What Does It Mean to Be Ready for Jesus’ Return?

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently charges his followers to stay ready for his return. One such place is Luke 12:35-48. Through a couple short parables about different kinds of servants, Jesus illustrates for his disciples what it means to be ready.

Stay Dressed for Action

In this passage—contra the logic of the “last day” question—being prepared for Jesus’ return means doing the kinds of things appropriate for your context, however ordinary and mundane they might seem. If you’re a teacher, be found grading midterms to the glory of God. If you’re a Christian who works in a factory, be found working until the whistle blows.

Jesus commands, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning” (v. 35). The literal rendering of the phrase “stay dressed for action” is, “let your loins stay girded.” Back in the day, to have your loins girded meant that a man was ready to work because he had pulled his long, flowing robe around to the front and tied it tight so that it wouldn’t interfere with action.

Read the rest here.

Counting on Mercy in Suffering

Sharing today from from UnlockingTheBible.org.

Counting on Mercy in Suffering

By Lianna Davis

From the pits of grief and suffering, the human heart and soul can yearn to know the cause of earthly pain. Did a particular sin bring this suffering upon me, or did I need discipline?

Tender answers might pour into the soul from Scripture—Job was a noble man who suffered and grieved (Job 1:8). And the man born blind in John’s gospel was not provided by Jesus with a personal sin corresponding to his pain (John 9:2-3). We cannot always draw straight lines between cause and effect for our individual suffering (Isaiah 55:9). In How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, D. A. Carson writes,

It is the uncertainty of reading what is going on that sometimes breeds pain. Is the particular blow I am facing God’s way of telling me to change something? Or is it a form of discipline designed to toughen me or soften me to make me more useful? Or is it part of the heritage of all sons and daughters of Adam who live this side of the parousia, unrelated to discipline but part of God’s mysterious providence in a fallen world? But must we always decide? If a little self-examination shows us how to improve, we ought to improve. But there are times when all that the Christian can responsibly do is to trust his heavenly Father in the midst of the darkness and pain. (Carson 66)

“Must we always decide?” We can heed Carson to welcome needed growth in obedience that “a little self-examination” uncovers. Yet, he also warns that our inability to understand the full purposes of God behind our suffering can cause us sorrow on top of sorrow.

Draw Near to the Merciful Savior

While we sit in the mysteries of God’s providence, there is a promise we can be certain of. It’s a theme Carson repeats throughout his book: “From the biblical perspective, it is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Carson 44).

As I grow to have a higher and higher view of God being God—creating and owning me, being pure and dwelling in unapproachable light, and deserving of my unwavering devotion and holy fear, I am increasingly unable to view any of my sins as insignificant or any of my fleshly contributions as meaningful. This principle Carson writes of has been crucial for me, especially in the seat of suffering.

Read the rest here.

Let’s Talk About Your Worry

Shared from Unlocking the Bible.

Let’s Talk About Your Worry

by Eden Parker

Yep, we’re gonna talk about worry. You’ve heard the command:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life… (v. 25)

But a good friend of mine told me to always ask, “What’s the therefore there for?” What was said before this to birth Matthew’s imperative? Earlier in the chapter, we read, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21) and, “No one can serve two masters” (6:24). God in his Word has reminded us that he is our Father and Master, and out of this reality we find the command to live free of anxiety.

When we labor for the Lord, it’s not a part-time employment—he’s the Master. When we fight for the Lord, it’s not a temporary deployment (2 Timothy 2:4)—he’s the King. But one of the ways Christians side-step service to the King and dishonor his Lordship is by worrying.

We know this deadly enemy by our fret and sweat, the jitters, the “oh-no!”s about tomorrow, the thoughts surrounding events that make our palms sweat and elevate our heart rates. But really, worry is our heart’s response to a deeply rooted belief that we are our own master; a deeply felt responsibility that we are our own king; and a deep craving to meet our own needs.

I read Matthew 6, and I write now to admonish my own failure. There are four things, among many more, we can learn about the root of worry—what’s really going on in our heart—from this passage. As we consider God’s Word, I pray he works in us both to put to death this sin in our heart.

Four Things That Happen When You Worry

1. You have disordered priorities.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (v. 25, emphasis added)

Life is more than the sum of solutions to the things we worry about. What things does God warn us not to worry over? Food, drink, clothes, our body. These are real needs, but they’re not worth one minute of faithless fretting.

Read the rest here.

10 Bible Reading Habits I’ve Learned from My Pastor

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

10 Bible Reading Habits
I’ve Learned from My Pastor

By Rachel Lehner

…hold fast to the word I preached to you… (1 Corinthians 15:2b)

A good sermon exhorts us to grapple with God’s Word preached, hold fast to its truth, and do what it commands. A preacher who places himself under Holy Scripture will present his teaching in a way the congregation can follow, to understand the text they hold on their laps.

10 Bible Reading Habits I’ve Learned from My Pastor’s Sermons

I have found my senior pastor to be exceptionally faithful in this regard. In recently reflecting on 15 years of sitting under his teaching, I’ve seen how his Word-based preaching has significantly impacted my personal Bible reading.

Here are 10 habits I have picked up from my pastor’s weekly sermons:

1. Slow down!

I’ve read the Beatitudes many times and thought I had mined all their treasures—until our church did a 17-week series on only 10 verses. My pastor’s high view of Scripture has challenged me to expect more from each verse and to slow down when I read my Bible.

2. Use Scripture to explain Scripture.

When seeking to understand the meaning of a word or verse, I’ve seen how important it is to interpret Scripture in light of itself. For example, I understood the word “blasphemy” to mean insulting or showing contempt for God. But my pastor used Mark 2:7 to explain Matthew 26:65, which defines “blasphemy” as claiming to be God. This makes the charge against Jesus before the priests all the more meaningful since Jesus was put to death for claiming to be God, the one crime for which Jesus could be rightfully convicted.

3. Expect glimpses of Christ outside the Gospels.

I likely would never have seen all the ways Joseph pointed further to Jesus Christ if it hadn’t been shown to me, but as I repeatedly saw this on Sunday mornings I started finding Christ throughout Scripture on my own. I found Jesus in the promised son who would deliver God’s people (Judges 13:3) and in the psalmist longing for a pledge of good (Psalm 119:122), among many other examples. As Pastor Colin has said, “The whole Bible is one story. It begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points us to Jesus Christ.”

4. Details are often more significant than we realize.

I’ve learned to ask questions of details that may seem insignificant in a passage. For example, why are we told that Jesus heals an official’s son in John 4? My pastor brought to our attention the many parallels to Pharaoh’s son who died in Exodus 12. He explained how this small, but significant, detail pointed to why grace is better than law, and why Jesus is better than Moses. Any time a verse gives specific details like the number of baskets in Mark 6 or repeats a phrase like “here I am” in Genesis 22, I want to look closely because I know the Spirit has preserved the text this way for a reason.

5. We have more in common with the original recipients than we think.

Read the rest here.