Come Follow Me: Acts 1-9
Welcome to the second half of our New Testament studies. What a glorious first half we’ve had studying the life of our Savior. But now we need to come down off the beautiful mountains and spend some time in the hot desert valleys with some thorns and thistles. We’ll still learn about Jesus, but now we’ll see how He acts through His apostles.
We’re also going to enter a coliseum where our Christian brethren of other denominations (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, etc.) have the distinct advantage, because they really know this part of the New Testament forwards and backwards. They are believers in the notion of sola scriptura, where their version of the Bible is the definitive, inerrant, and unexpandable word of God. Therefore, the Old and New Testaments are all they have, which is why they have an explanation and interpretation for every single verse which defines the doctrine as they see it.
But some things are very unclear in this half of the scriptures, especially when we get to the Pauline letters later on, which is one of the reasons why the world now has over 45,000 different Christian sects and denominations! They don’t have the advantages that we have in the Restored Church such as the additional testaments of Jesus Christ as found in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. While they have the Spirit of Christ that enlightens and edifies and brings people to Christ, they don’t have Gift of the Holy Ghost which is bestowed by priesthood authority. They also don’t believe God still reveals his mind to prophets and apostles, so they do not have ongoing revelation from the Lord’s representatives. Nor do they see the need for covenants and ordinances, nor worry about those who have lived and died without the opportunity to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nor do they have the reliable leadership of apostles and prophets who did not seek that position but were chosen by Christ to be His voice. And we can go on and on. Later in this lesson, I’ll introduce you to 30 characteristics of the original church and invite you to see how it compares with your own church.
Now everyone knows that the second half of any journey is always more challenging than the first half. We start off all gung ho, and then at the midpoint we begin to get weary. It is why most us know the story of Nephi and Lehi, but forget about Abish, Shiblon, or the one Amalekite convert. Or all of us can explain the stories from Genesis through Moses, but get lost in the reeds with Mahershalalhashbaz, Habakkuk, and Jehoshaphat. Wait, that’s politically incorrect, maybe we should call him Jehosha-overweight.
It is natural to lose our interest and momentum after the climax of the story has been reached, which in this case was the atonement, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Aristotle was around, he’d say that we just entered the denouement of the plot structure, the falling action and start of new life. (Well, maybe not that word, since Aristotle didn’t speak French. Let’s see, in ancient Greek he would have used the word lísi (pronounced “ee see”)
So that’s where we’re at. We’re now going to figure out what people do when Jesus isn’t around. We’re going to learn the importance of apostolic authority and the need for constant communication with sheep who like to roam around when the shepherd’s not around. We’re going to learn how we need to walk by faith. We’re going to learn how to become Christians.
Now, the Book of Acts is actually a continuation of the book of Luke—he wrote it. As a matter of fact, if you go and read them back-to-back, it tells a wonderful story. In Luke we learned of the Savior’s mortal ministry, and in Acts we learn how His ministry continued on through His apostles.
Even though this particular book is really quite amazing, the title, “Acts” is a bit uninspired. If the book was released today, it wouldn’t rank high in a search engine. Maybe the title should be, “Unleashing Miracles: The Untold Stories of the Apostles’ Epic Adventures.” Or something like that.
So, let’s build up some energy, harness some momentum, and jump right into it. Here’s your first question: What have you learned over the past couple of weeks as you’ve studied the first nine chapters of the Book of Acts?
Okay, given the deafening roar of responses, maybe that was too big of a cliff to jump off of. Let’s start off with a one-minute recap of each of those 9 chapters, and then we’ll go back and discuss some of the lessons we learned. In other words, I’m giving you nine minutes to cram and think about something you learned.
To make it sporty, I’ve arranged the chairs in here today in my favorite “flying wedge” or “chevron” pattern, and underneath nine chairs I placed a golden ticket, or a canary post-it note, if you will. You may want to check to see if that number is under your chair.
Each ticket features a number. Number one corresponds to Acts 1. Number two is Acts 2, and so on. Because you have the winning ticket, you will get a package of M&Ms candy. And you get to tell us something you learned from the assigned chapter.
Or, thanks to the gift of agency, you can choose to delegate and invite someone near you to answer that question, of course, you’ll need to give away your candy. But be careful, you might lose a friend. Keep in mind that we, the Lord’s chosen people, are chosen only because in pre-mortality, we promised Father that we would reach out and choose others to join us on the covenant path. The numbers start at the back and work forward to the expensive seats up front. Are you ready?
Next, I’m going to give you a short chapter summary and list 10 principles or truths I found as I read through those chapters. This should help prime the pump and help you recall what the Lord taught you as you read through these scriptures. I’ll give you a summary of what I learned, but the important thing is what have you learned? I’ll invite your comments after each chapter.
The First Nine Chapter of Acts
After His resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples over a period of 40 days, teaching them about the Kingdom of God. Before His ascension, He instructs them to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Ghost. After Jesus ascends to heaven, the disciples return to Jerusalem where they choose Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot, restoring the number of apostles to twelve.
- Ascension of Jesus (9)
- Promise of the Holy Spirit (4-5)
- The Second Coming of Jesus (11)
- Prayer and Unity (14)
- Leadership in the Church (26)
- Fulfillment of Prophecy (20)
- The Role of Apostles (8, 22)
- Divine Guidance (24-26)
- The Global Mission (8)
- The Importance of Witnessing (8)
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost descends upon the disciples, enabling them to speak in different languages. Peter delivers a powerful sermon, explaining that this event fulfills the prophecy of Joel and testifying about Jesus Christ. Many are moved by his words, and about three thousand people are baptized and added to their number that day.
- The Coming of the Holy Spirit (1-4)
- The Universality of the Gospel (5-12)
- Fulfillment of Prophecy (16-21)
- Jesus’ Lordship and Messiahship (36)
- The Call to Repentance (38)
- The Gift of the Holy Ghost (38)
- The Growth of the Church (41)
- Communal Life of Believers (42)
- Sharing and Generosity (44-45)
- Praising God with Joy (47)
Peter and John heal a lame man at the temple gate called Beautiful, attracting a large crowd. Peter seizes the opportunity to preach about Jesus, urging the people to repent so their sins may be wiped out. The healed man clings to Peter and John, all of them praising God.
- Healing in Jesus’ Name (1-10)
- The Power of Faith (16)
- Jesus as the Servant of God (13)
- The Death and Resurrection of Jesus (15)
- Repentance and Conversion (19)
- The Return of Jesus (20-21)
- Jesus as the Fulfillment of Prophecy (18, 22-25)
- Blessing through Jesus (25-26)
- Jesus as The Prophet (22)
- Obedience to God’s Prophet (23)
Peter and John are arrested for preaching about Jesus and His resurrection. Despite this, many who heard their message believe, increasing the number of believers to about five thousand. The next day, Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin where they boldly testify about Jesus. The apostles are released and return to their fellow believers, praying for boldness and witnessing the place where they were praying being shaken.
- Boldness in Witnessing (1-13)
- Jesus as the Cornerstone (11)
- Salvation in Jesus Alone (12)
- Prayer for Boldness (24-30)
- The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit (31)
- Sharing of Possessions (32-35)
- Witnessing the Resurrection (33)
- Grace upon the Believers (33)
- Selling Property for Distribution (36-37)
- Unity of the Church (32)
Ananias and Sapphira lie about the proceeds from a sale of their property and are struck dead as a result. Fear seizes the whole church and all who hear about these events. The apostles perform many miraculous signs and wonders, and despite being arrested and put in public jail, they continue to preach in the temple courts daily.
- God’s Judgment (1-11)
- Power of the Apostles (12)
- Respect and Fear of the Church (13)
- Growth of the Church (14)
- Healing Power (15-16)
- Persecution and Deliverance (17-20)
- Obedience to God over Men (29)
- Witnessing Despite Opposition (40-42)
- The Role of the Holy Spirit (3)
- Rejoicing in Suffering (41)
As the number of disciples increases, a dispute arises between the Hellenistic and Hebraic Jews over the distribution of food to their widows. The Twelve appoint seven men, full of the Spirit and wisdom, to oversee this task, allowing the apostles to devote themselves to prayer and ministry of the word. One of these men, Stephen, performs great wonders and signs among the people, leading to his arrest.
- Service in the Church (1-3)
- Qualifications for Service (3)
- Prayer and Ministry of the Word (4)
- Laying on of Hands (6)
- Growth of the Church (7)
- Opposition and False Accusations (8-14)
- Wisdom and Spirit-filled Speech (10)
- God’s Presence with His Servants (15)
- The Role of Servants in the Church (1-4)
- Faith and Power (8)
Stephen, standing before the Sanhedrin, delivers a powerful speech recounting the history of Israel and accusing the leaders of resisting the Holy Spirit and killing the Just One, Jesus. Enraged, they drag him out of the city and stone him to death, making Stephen the first Christian martyr. Saul (later known as Paul) approves of his execution.
- God’s Sovereignty in History (2-50)
- Rejection of God’s Messengers (52)
- Jesus as the Messiah (52)
- The Presence of God Beyond the Temple (48-50)
- The Charge of Blasphemy (54)
- Vision of Jesus at God’s Right Hand (55-56)
- Forgiveness of Enemies (60)
- Martyrdom for Faith (58-60)
- The Role of the Holy Spirit (55)
- God’s Faithfulness to His Promises (2-50)
A great persecution breaks out against the church in Jerusalem, causing the believers to scatter throughout Judea and Samaria. Despite the persecution, Philip goes to a city in Samaria and proclaims Christ there, performing miracles and healing many. An Ethiopian eunuch is converted and baptized by Philip on the road to Gaza.
- Persecution and the Spread of the Gospel (1-4)
- Preaching and Healing (5-7)
- Response to the Gospel (12)
- The Deception of Simon the Sorcerer (9-24)
- The Gift of the Holy Ghost (14-17)
- The Sin of Priestcraft (18-24)
- The Ethiopian Eunuch (26-39)
- Understanding Scripture (30-35)
- Baptism is Essential (36-38)
- Guidance of the Holy Spirit (29, 39-40)
Saul, a fierce persecutor of the church, encounters Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus. He is blinded and led into Damascus where Ananias, a disciple, heals him and baptizes him. Saul begins to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God, astonishing all who knew his previous fierce opposition to the name of Jesus. Saul escapes a plot to kill him and goes to Jerusalem, where Barnabas introduces him to the apostles.
- Conversion of Saul (1-19)
- Jesus Identifies with His People (4)
- Baptism and Filling of the Holy Spirit (17-18)
- Preaching Christ (20)
- Prayer and Healing (32-42)
- God’s Protection (23-25)
- Acceptance into the Community (26-28)
- The Spread of the Church (31)
- God’s Use of Visions (10-12, 17)
- Good Deeds and Charitable Works (36)
Comparisons of the Original Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The book of Acts is the first time the followers or disciples of Christ were referred to as a church. As you read the book of Acts and the other books in the New Testament, you will spot some characteristics that defined the original church. It is quite natural to ask, does my church have these same features? If not, why not? Here is a list of 30 items that popped out to me during the time I was studying this lesson, but I’m confident there are many more to be discovered.
1. Founding by Divine Intervention
Both the early Christian church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were founded through divine intervention. The Christian church was founded by Jesus Christ Himself, while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith following a series of visions and revelations from Jesus Christ.
Both churches faced significant persecution in their early years. The early Christians were persecuted by both Jewish and Roman authorities, while the early Latter-day Saints faced persecution from other religious groups and state governments, including the U.S. government, leading to their migration to Utah, a Mexican territory at the time.
3. Restoration of Authority
Both churches believe in a restoration of divine authority. The early Christian church was founded on the apostles who were given authority by Jesus Christ. The LDS Church believes in a restoration of this apostolic authority through Joseph Smith, who was ordained by resurrected beings including John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John.
4. Continuing Revelation
Both churches believe in continuing revelation to guide their members. The early Christian church was guided by revelations given to the apostles, as recorded in the New Testament. The modern Church believes that God continues to reveal His will to modern-day prophets and apostles.
5. Missionary Work
Both churches placed a strong emphasis on missionary work. The early Christian church spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, as recorded in the Book of Acts. The modern Church also places a strong emphasis on missionary work, with tens of thousands of missionaries serving worldwide.
5. Community and Fellowship
Both churches emphasized the importance of community and fellowship among believers. The early Christian church shared possessions and met together regularly for worship and fellowship. The modern Church also emphasizes the importance of community, sacrifice, and consecration with a strong focus on ward and stake activities, and a lay ministry that encourages dedication, participation, and service.
6. Baptism by Immersion
Both churches practice baptism by immersion. The early Christian church practiced baptism as an outward sign of an inward commitment to Christ. Similarly, the modern Church also practices the ordinance of baptism, which is performed when a person is eight years old or older and is a requirement for membership in the church.
7. Perseverance During Trials
Both churches showed perseverance in the face of trials and tribulations. The early Christian church grew and spread despite persecution and martyrdom. The modern Church also persevered through persecution, forced migration, and other challenges, and has grown to become a global church.
8. Role of the Holy Spirit
Both churches believe in the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and comforting believers. The early Christian church was founded at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The modern Church believes in the gift of the Holy Spirit following baptism, which is believed to provide guidance and comfort to the believer. The modern church also had an initial Pentecostal period which was witnessed by thousands at the Kirtland Temple.
9. Importance of Scripture
Both churches place a high importance on scripture. The early Christian church used the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and produced the writings of the New Testament. The Church of Jesus Christ uses the Bible and additional scriptures including the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.
10. Leadership Structure
Both churches have a hierarchical leadership structure. The early Christian church was led by apostles and elders. The modern Church is led by a President (considered a prophet) and two counselors, forming the First Presidency, followed by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Quorums of Seventy, and other levels of leadership down to the local level.
Both churches practice religious rites. The early Christian church practiced the Lord’s Supper and baptism. The LDS Church practices these as well, in addition to others such as confirmation, priesthood ordination, endowment, and sealing (marriage) ceremonies in their temples.
12. The Second Coming
Both churches believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The early Christian church lived in expectation of Christ’s imminent return. The modern Church also teaches that Jesus Christ will return to the earth in glory, to reign for a thousand years.
13. Living Prophets
Both churches believe in the guidance of living prophets. The early Christian church was led by apostles who were considered prophets. The modern Church believes in a living prophet who leads the church today, as well as 14 other apostles who are also prophets, seers, and revelators.
14. Physical Gathering of Believers
Both churches practiced a gathering of believers. The early Christian church had gatherings in Jerusalem and other cities. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also practiced a gathering of believers, initially to Ohio, then Missouri, and finally Utah. Today, the gathering still takes place in more than 3500 stakes of Zion around the world.
15. Miracles and Divine Healing
Both churches believe in miracles and divine healing. The early Christian church recorded many miracles, including healings performed by the apostles. The modern Church also believes in miracles and divine healing, with priesthood holders often giving blessings for the sick and afflicted.
16. Tithes and Offerings
Both churches practiced tithing or financial sacrifice. The early Christian church had members sell their possessions to support each other. The modern Church practices the law of tithing, where members are asked to donate 10% of their income to the church. They also make other donations and promise to consecrate and sacrifice everything that is needful.
17. Personal Revelation
Both churches believe in personal revelation. The early Christian church believed in the guidance of the Holy Ghost for personal revelation, as does the modern Church. Worthy individuals are entitled to receive personal revelation for their own lives and their own stewardships.
18. The Priesthood
Both churches believe in priesthood authority. The early Christian church had a structure of apostles, seventy, bishops, elders, and deacons. The modern Church follows a similar structure and believes in the restoration of the priesthood, with two major divisions: the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods.
19. Immortality/Eternal Life
Both churches believe that Christ made it possible for everyone to be resurrected after they die, and eventually receive an immortal body to clothe their immortal spirit with varying amounts of glory. The amount of glory you possess for eternity is determined by your faith and faithfulness, for there are many mansions that are prepared for the faithful.
20. Worship Services
Both churches hold regular worship services. The early Christian church met on the first day of the week (Sunday) for teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. The modern Church also holds regular Sunday services, which include sacrament meetings, Sunday School, and other auxiliary meetings.
21. Faith and Works
Both churches emphasize the importance of both faith and works. The early Christian church taught that faith in Jesus Christ leads to salvation, but also emphasized the importance of good works and disciplined discipleship. The modern Church also teaches that while salvation is freely given through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, individuals are still expected to live according to God’s commandments, repent when they make mistakes, and perform good works.
22. Missionary Work
Both churches have a strong emphasis on spreading their message through evangelism. The early Christian church sent out missionaries (like Paul and Barnabas) to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is well-known for its missionary program, sending out young men and women, as well as older individuals and couples, to preach the gospel worldwide.
23. The Nature of God
Both churches have similar views on the nature of God, with the existence of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as three beings, but one in purpose. They each have different roles to play as they work to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of Father’s creations.
24. Perseverance in Faith
Both churches teach the importance of enduring to the end in faith. The early Christian church faced many trials and persecutions yet continued to grow and spread. The modern Church also teaches the principle of enduring to the end and continuing in faith despite trials and challenges, of which they have experienced, and will yet experience, as we near the second coming of Christ.
25. The Role of Women
Women played significant roles in both churches. In the early Christian church, women like Mary the Mother of Christ, Mary Magdalene, Phoebe, Priscilla, and Lydia played important leadership roles in the spread of the gospel. In the modern Church, women serve in various leadership positions and play crucial roles in the church’s Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations. All major decisions made in the leadership councils of the modern church are made by both men and women.
26. The Importance of Family
Both churches place a high value on family. The early Christian church saw the household as an important unit of Christian activity, with entire households being baptized together. The modern Church also places a strong emphasis on the family, with teachings centered on the importance of family relationships, both in this life and in the eternities.
26. The Law of Obedience
Both churches teach the importance of obedience to God’s commandments. The early Christian church taught the importance of obeying the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, as does the modern church. Both have a strong emphasis on obedience to God’s commandments as a demonstration of faith and commitment. They both recognized that whether the commandments come through the voice of the Lord or the voice of His authorized servants, it is the same.
28. The Principle of Stewardship
Both churches teach the principle of stewardship and responsibilities to their communities. The early Christian church had members sell their possessions to support each other. The modern Church teaches the principle of stewardship over the earth and over individual talents and blessings. Everyone is encouraged to magnify their callings and make it a wonderful opportunity to serve one another.
29. Temple Worship
The early Christian church was born out of a Jewish context, and the temple in Jerusalem played a significant role in their religious life. Similarly, temples hold a central place in the worship practices of the modern Church. Latter-day Saints consider temples to be the House of the Lord, places where sacred ordinances like eternal marriages are performed.
30. Welfare and Humanitarian Aid
The early Christian church was known for its care for the poor and needy, as seen in the collection for the Jerusalem church in the epistles of Paul. Similarly, the modern Church has a robust welfare system and is involved in humanitarian aid around the world, emphasizing self-reliance and care for the poor and needy, regardless of their religious beliefs.
The Book of Acts, chapters 1 through 9, is a vibrant narrative that chronicles the early days of the Christian church and the spread of the Gospel. As we’ve seen, the book begins with Jesus instructing the apostles and ascending to heaven. The apostles, along with Mary and several others, gather in Jerusalem to pray. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles, enabling them to speak in different languages. Peter delivers a powerful sermon about Jesus Christ, leading to the conversion of about 3,000 people. Peter and John heal a lame man at the temple gate, which gives Peter the opportunity to preach about Jesus’ resurrection and the need for repentance. Peter and John are arrested for their preaching but are later released. The believers pray for boldness and the place where they are gathered is shaken. Ananias and Sapphira lie about their offering and are struck dead. The apostles perform many miraculous signs and wonders, but are arrested and later freed by an angel. Seven men, including Stephen, are chosen to help with the distribution of food so the apostles can focus on prayer and ministry. Stephen, full of God’s grace and power, performs great wonders and signs. Stephen gives a speech to the Sanhedrin, recounting the faithfulness of God and the disobedience of Israel. He is stoned to death, becoming the first Christian martyr. Persecution scatters the believers, but the Gospel continues to spread. Philip evangelizes in Samaria and later to an Ethiopian eunuch. Saul, a persecutor of Christians, encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus and is converted, becoming Paul. He begins to preach about Jesus in the synagogues, confounding the Jews.
These awesome and amazing chapters of Acts are a testament to the power of faith, the strength of the early Christian community, and the transformative message of the Gospel. They remind us of the courage of the apostles and the early Christians who, despite persecution, were committed to spreading the Good News. Their stories inspire us to live boldly for Christ, trusting in His power to work through us, just as He did through them.