New Testament Ready Plan: Week 9

Week 9 summary:

Last week was the culmination of Jesus' ministry on earth.  Jesus was crucified, was buried and rose from the grave on the first Easter Sunday.
This week we start to look at the spread of the church, the spread of Christianity.  The book of the Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke who also wrote the gospel called Luke.  So he picks up the story right before Jesus' ascension.

Day 1:    Acts 1-3
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He told the disciples to not do anything until they received the gift He had promised – the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit would provide the power they needed to spread the gospel.  They were instructed to spread the good news to the Jews first (Jerusalem and Judea), and then to the gentiles (Samaria and the rest of the earth).
As the 11 apostles wait, they choose a 12th apostle.  There are 2 requirements for the new apostle:  1) he must have been around during the time of Jesus' ministry;  2) must become a witness of the resurrection.  Acts 1:24 says that the apostles prayed for the correct choice.  Matthias wins.
Pentecost was already a festival celebrated by Jews and it occurred 50 days after Passover.  So many Jews, from many different places were in Jerusalem to witness the coming of the Holy Spirit and hear the 1st Christian sermon from Peter.  Those Jews, after hearing Peter, will go back to the places they came from and share about Jesus.  The gospel will start to spread.  What did Peter communicate?  Because of Jesus, we should change our hearts and minds – repent!  Be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit.
As you read Acts 2:42-47, pay attention to what the early church (believers) did.

Day 2:    Acts 4-6
Peter gets to preach again, this time to the leaders and elders of the people.  “Salvation can be found in no one else.  Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.”  (Acts4:12 CEB – Common English Bible translation)  The leaders demanded that Peter and John stop preaching about Jesus.  To that demand, Peter and John reply, “As for us, we can't stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.  (Acts 4:20 CEB)  Also, they said later, “We must obey God rather than humans.”  (Acts 5:29 CEB)
Through the teaching, preaching and healing that the apostles were performing, the number of Christians continues to grow as the good news spreads.

Day 3:   Acts 7-8
If you want a pretty good synopsis of the Old Testament, especially starting with the call of Abraham (Genesis 12) through when the Israelites entered the promised land (in the book of Joshua) and a little about David and Solomon thrown in, read Acts 7 very carefully and look at all of the references back to the Old Testament.  Stephen at his trial, was giving a brief history of the Jews that led up to Jesus.  Stephen was accusing the Jewish leaders which led to him becoming the first martyr.
Saul (later to be known as Paul – the Paul who wrote most of the New Testament) was at the stoning of Stephen and actually approved of it.  He goes to work persecuting the early Christians.
After Stephen's death, believers in the early church scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.  (Sound familiar?  Jesus told the apostles to start spreading the good news in Jerusalem and then go to Judea and Samaria.  The stoning of Stephen is the impetus for the gospel to spread past Jerusalem.)

Day 4:   Acts 9-10
In Acts 9, as Saul is going to Damascus with orders to arrest more Christians, he encounters the risen Jesus.  He once was the chief persecutor of the Christians.  Now he is a Christian himself and will become one of the main Christians to spread the gospel of Jesus to the gentiles.  Saul/Paul will resurface in Acts 13.
Up to this point, there were many who felt that the good news of Jesus was for the Jews.  Peter might have been one of them.  But then he has a vision in Acts 10.  Through the vision and his visit with the gentile Cornelius, that view changes.  Pay attention to how the stories of Peter and Cornelius and their respective visions are intertwined and work together.  A God-thing!  Peter says, “I really am learning that God doesn't show partiality to one group of people over another.  Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  (Acts 10:34-35 CEB)

Day 5:   Acts 11-12
Even though Peter now gets it (Jesus is for everyone), not everyone back in the church at Jerusalem agrees.  Once Peter shared the story about Cornelius, the other apostles and believers understood too – that God has enabled gentiles to change their hearts and minds as well.

Day 6:   Acts 13-14
The first of three missionary journeys of Paul is recorded in these two chapters.  Part of the journey included establishing churches in the area of Galatia (in the cities of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe). 
Paul's typical mode of operation when he came to a new town to spread the good news of Jesus was to go to the Jews first.  That was the plan from the beginning.  However, when the Jews reject it, Paul then goes to the Gentiles.  (Remember Jesus said that the good news was for the Jews first.)  We see that the Jews start to harass Paul (which will become frequent as he proceeds on his missionary journeys).  But listen to what Luke says about Paul in Acts 13:52 (CEB):  “Because of the abundant presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the disciples were overflowing with happiness.”

Day 7:  rest

New Testament Reading Plan: Week 8

Week 8 summary:

This week will finish half way through reading the New Testament.  What we read this week will define Christianity – the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, Halley's Bible Handbook says that the five most important chapters in the Bible may be Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20-21 because they tell us of the resurrection of Jesus – the capstone of the story of the entire Bible.

Day 1:   Exodus 12:1-28
We start this week by reading about the first Passover.  (By the way, Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem celebrating the Passover which was an annual custom for Jews.)  The first Passover occurred in Egypt as Moses was working to get Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.  The last plague that God brought through Moses was that the first-born of each household would die.  However, God gave instructions to the Israelites through Moses as to what they should do to prevent the death of the first-born.  It involved sacrificing a flawless lamb (without defect, without blemish).  Note that Jesus was called the “Lamb of God.”  If some blood of the lamb was spread on the doorposts  and beam above the door, this would cause the angel of death to “pass over” that house and the first-born will not die.  Note that Jesus shed His blood and that blood ended up on the cross.  There was no magical power in the blood of the lamb.  It was really the faith of those inside the house that the blood around the door would prevent their death.  Note that faith in the blood of Jesus is what causes “death to pass over us” and allows us to have life eternal.

Day 2:   Matthew 27; Mark15
Jesus was put on trial and found guilty.  However, He did not talk back to His accusers.  (See Isaiah 53:7.)  Pilate had Jesus whipped.  (See Isaiah 53:5.)  They mocked Him and spit on Jesus.  (See Isaiah 50:6.)  They lead Jesus away to be crucified.  As they are crucifying Him, they cast lots for his clothing.  (See Psalm 22:18.)  At noon, the sky becomes very dark and Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (See Psalm 22:1.)  As Jesus died at 3:00 pm, the curtain in the temple that separated the people from where God lived (symbolized by the ark of the covenant) tore in two, from top to bottom symbolizing that the separation of the people from God was no more.  (See Exodus 26:31-33.)

Day 3:    Luke 23; John 18-19
The passage from Luke 23 is similar to the passages from Matthew and Mark read yesterday.
The passage from John has a couple of extra pieces of information.  First, it was Jewish law that if someone is crucified, their body cannot hang on the “tree” overnight.  (See Deuteronomy 21:22-23.)  So they needed to make sure that all 3 people (the two criminals and Jesus) were dead and could be taken down and buried before night.  Since death by crucifixion really occurs by suffocation, by breaking the legs of the victims, they would not be able to push themselves up to take a breath and therefore, would die quicker.  The legs of the two criminals were broken.  But not the legs of Jesus.  (Read Exodus 12:46 to see how the Passover Lamb (remember, Jesus is the symbolic Passover Lamb) was to be prepared.  The answer:  the bones were not to be broken!)  Instead, the side of Jesus was pierced by a spear.  Out came blood and water, medically speaking a sign that Jesus had died.

Day 4:    Matthew 28; Mark 16
According to Matthew 28, Jesus tomb is found to be empty and He appears to the 11 disciples.  (Judas Iscariot, the traitor, is no longer...)  The last words of Jesus according to Matthew gives us the Great Commission:  go make disciples, baptize them, teach them to obey.  Why do we do this?  Because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth.  How do we do it?  With the power of Jesus that is with us always to the end of the age.

Day 5:    Luke 24; John 20-21
In Luke 24, we learn of 2 of Jesus' disciples heading back home after the wild and unexpected events of the last few days.  They are saddened and dejected because they had placed their hope in Jesus as the Messiah (Savior) but their hope turned into hopelessness as Jesus was crucified.  A stranger comes up to them (who is Jesus but they don't recognize Him – they were prevented from recognizing Him, at least for a while).  Jesus proceeds to tell the disciples about all that the Hebrew Scriptures (the writings of Moses and the Prophets) had to say about the Messiah, in particular how He would need to suffer.  The disciples had thought Jesus was going to be a different kind of Savior – political and military.  But the Savior was really coming to save people from their sins and reconcile the relationship between people and God. As Jesus explained those facts, the disciples' hearts were burning.  As they recognized Jesus, they then understood and rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples that they had seen the risen Jesus.
John 21:15-17 is a recommissioning of Peter – recommissioning him to serve Jesus by feeding Jesus' lambs and taking care of His sheep.  Some commentaries say that Jesus asked Peter 3 times if Peter loved Jesus because Peter denied that he knew Jesus 3 times.

Day 6:  rest

Day 7:  rest

New Teastament Reading Plan: Week 7

Week 7 summary:

Readings this week are on the cusp of Jesus' betrayal and arrest.  So Jesus spends His last free time teaching His disciples about the events to come.  If someone is about to die, how much stock do you put into a person's last words so-to-speak?  A lot!
As we get to the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, we will see a lot of references back to prophecies in the Old Testament.

Day 1:   Mark 13
Mark 13 is very similar in nature and content to Luke 21 (read last week) and Matthew 24 (to be read tomorrow).  See notes from Day 2 readings.

Day 2:    Matthew 24
In Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, it is widely accepted that Jesus is speaking about two separate events:  the overthrow and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 but also the end times when Jesus comes again. 
(Remember that the Bible was written (especially apocalyptic literature – literature that uses all kinds of images to get the attention of the reader and to dramatize the message in a memorable way) to be understood by its 1st readers and that interpretations that would not be understood by its original readers in the 1st century are not correct interpretations.  So reading this material and trying to connect it directly to current events will not tell us when the end times will occur.  After all in Matthew 24:36, Jesus says that no one will know the hour except the Father, not even the Son.  If Jesus didn't know – can or should we?)
There are a couple of important points:  1)  there will be false prophets claiming to be the Christ – don't believe them;  2)  stay alert and be prepared – watch for the signs of Jesus’ 2nd coming;  3)  we should continue with our task of sharing the gospel to the nations – the end times will not come until that occurs (Matthew 24:14).

Day 3:    Matthew 25
The parable of the 10 bridesmaids (virgins):  This parable means that we should keep our minds on Jesus and be ready when He comes.
The parable of the talents (valuable coins, bags of gold):  Not only are we to be prepared for Jesus' return, but we are to improve our allotted “talents” until the day.  In other words, we may say that this is like “going on to perfection” as John Wesley would say (i.e., going on toward Christlikeness).
The sheep and the goats: God will separate His obedient followers from pretenders and unbelievers.  The real evidence of our belief is the way we act.  What we do for others demonstrates what we really think about Jesus' words to us.

Day 4:    Matthew 26; Mark 14
As you read the passages for today, also look up the following references to Old Testament prophecy that was coming true with Jesus and the events that are now surrounding His betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion.
Matthew 26:54 – see Psalm 22:7-8, Psalm 22:16-18, Isaiah 53:8-9
Matthew 26:56 – see Zechariah 13:7
Matthew 26:63 – see Isaiah 53:7
Matthew 26:64 – see Daniel 7:13-14

Day 5:    Luke 22; John 13
Luke 22:5 – see Zechariah 11:12

Day 6:    John 14-17
These 4 chapters of  John occur after the Passover meal and after Jesus has washed His disciple's feet – demonstrating the requirement to serve others.  In this last discourse with His disciples before Jesus is arrested, Jesus is compassionately spending time reassuring His disciples about what is to come.  Since they will hear about what is to come before it happens, another reason that Jesus is sharing is so that they will believe!  (See John 14:29.)  Some of what Jesus conveys in this conversation is:
·         Jesus is going away and will be preparing a place for His disciples.
·         Jesus says that whoever has seen Him has seen the Father.
·         Jesus will send the Holy Spirit (called the Companion, Counselor, Advocate, Friend) to be with his followers and to remind them of what Jesus has taught them.
·         Soon, even though the world would not see Jesus, His disciples will.
·         A disciple can't produce fruit unless the disciple “remains in”  Jesus.
·         A disciple will remain in Jesus' love if the disciple keeps Jesus' commandments.
·         We are called to love.
·         Disciples of Jesus will be persecuted because the ones doing the persecuting will think they are doing God's will.  But they aren't because they don't know God the Father or God the Son.
·         Jesus has conquered the world.
John 17 is a prayer from Jesus for His disciples.  As you read John 17, read it as if Jesus is praying for you right now!  He did pray for you (see John 17:20).  Jesus prays for His disciples then and for you and me now:
·         That God would watch over us as Jesus is leaving the world.
·         We will share completely in Jesus' joy.
·         That God would keep us safe from the evil one.
·         That we would be holy in the truth.
·         Jesus is sending us into the world.
·         That we will be one as Jesus and God the Father are one – unity.
·         God's love for Jesus will be in us.

Day 7:  rest