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The Mystery of the Church

The Body of Christ.
Lesson 62 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

– Acts 2:41–47

And from that day, His followers went out into the world sharing God’s truth, and love, and forgiveness with others. By His Spirit, they did the works that Jesus did when He walked among them: healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, and reconciling people to God. And their number increased daily.

– The HOPE, Chapter 12

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

On the day the Holy Spirit filled the followers of Jesus, something extraordinary was born. What is known to most people as the Church, the Bible calls a mystery. In Ephesians 3:9–10, Paul writes of “the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”

The Bible uses several metaphors to describe the relationship between Jesus and His Church. Some of these include:

Each of these metaphors is rich with descriptive imagery, but perhaps none more so than the one we find in 1 Corinthians 12. This scripture describes the Church as the body of Christ Jesus, with Him being the head (as we read in Ephesians 5:23). At this present time, we know that Jesus is with the Father in heaven. He is preparing a place for those who believe in Him (John 14:2) and He is praying for them (Romans 8:34). His presence on earth is now manifested by the Holy Spirit through His body, the Church. In this sense, the members of the Church are His arms, hands, feet, eyes, and lips in the world. As the Head of His body, Jesus is directing the activity of the Church on earth through the Holy Spirit.

As we compare the metaphor of a physical body to the relationship between Jesus and His Church, consider these two truths:

  1. All the parts of a body are necessary to form a complete functioning unit. If any member of the body is weak or missing, the entire body suffers.
  2. It is only in the context of a functioning body that each member discovers his or her identity. Just as a finger cannot fulfill its function apart from the hand, so a follower of Jesus will never know (walk in) his or her identity in Jesus apart from a right relationship with the Body of Jesus.

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The Coming of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit and the mystery of the Trinity.
Lesson 61 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.

– John 14:16–20

And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language.

– Acts 2:1–6

…we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.

– Acts 2:11

Not many days after Jesus has ascended to heaven, His followers were gathered together. Suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a rushing wind filling the whole house. They saw what appeared to be tongues of fire, which came to rest on each person. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit of God, and began speaking in languages other than their own. Just as Jesus had promised, His followers were not alone, for His very presence was being manifested in them by the Spirit of God filling them.

– The HOPE, Chapter 12

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus promised His disciples He would not leave them as orphans. He told them that the Father would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:16), who would be with them forever. On the fiftieth day (the Pentecost) after His resurrection, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled. The Holy Spirit came and filled the followers of Jesus.

In Genesis 1:26 God speaks of Himself in a plural form. “Let us make man in our image.” In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” These verses (and many others1) speak to a truth that is clearly taught in the Bible, though not necessarily explained. God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), and He is three–in–one. He is not one God with three parts. He is not three distinct Gods existing in community. God is three–in–one. This truth is known as the doctrine of the Trinity, and though it is supported by scripture it remains a mystery to the human mind.

Just as the Bible speaks of the Father and the Son as God, so also it speaks of the Holy Spirit as having the attributes of God:

Although He is God, manifesting all the attributes of God, the Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself. Rather most theologians would say that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to mediate or manifest (make known) the person and presence of Jesus Christ in God the Father. In John 14:9, Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus (John 15:26) and Jesus reveals the Father. Continue reading


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Final Words

Before departing, Jesus explains the divine plan.
Lesson 60 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

– Luke 24:44–49

He opened their minds to understand the events that had taken place in light of all that had been spoken through the prophets from ages past. He explained that for the forgiveness of sins, it was necessary that He suffer death and rise again.And He spoke of the Kingdom of God, saying that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him. Now the time had come for Jesus to go to the Father, and prepare a place in heaven for all those who love Him. Jesus promised His followers that soon the Spirit of God would come and empower them to share His truth and love and forgiveness with the whole world. After saying this, Jesus left them and ascended into the clouds.

– The HOPE, Chapter 11

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

When we sense that time may be short we often choose our words more carefully. For this reason, final words are likely to be more important, even life changing words. In the brief time after His resurrection and before His ascending to heaven, Jesus spent precious time with His followers. During that time, He explained:

  • What had happened to Him – Jesus explained that His death and resurrection were all part of the plan that had been foretold in God’s Word. It was necessary that He die for the forgiveness of sin.
  • What would happen next to them – On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that He would go to the Father to prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14:2-3). But He also promised to send another, One from the Father whom He called the Helper (John 14:16-20). As the time for Jesus’ departure drew near, Jesus reiterated the promise He made to His disciples: to send this One who is in fact the Spirit of God and who is known in the Bible as the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17, Acts 3:3;Acts 4:31; Acts 5:32).
  • What His followers should keep on doing until they are reunited with Him – Jesus told His followers that until He returned they were to share the truth of what they had witnessed with the whole world, with people from every nation.

In the next and final chapter of our study, we will look more closely at Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit, and His instructions to share His truth with the whole world. But in this lesson, it is fitting that we should conclude our study of His death and resurrection by examining it in the context of God’s grand plan. Continue reading


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Inspired by the Resurrection

Because of the resurrection, all things are possible.
Lesson 59 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

– 1 Peter 1:3

…with God all things are possible.

– Matthew 19:26

After making certain that Jesus was dead, the soldiers allowed His body to be taken down from the cross. By the end of the day, His body would be laid in a tomb, which would be sealed with a very large stone. At the insistence of the religious leaders, soldiers would be posted to guard the tomb. For those who loved Jesus, this was a time of great confusion and loss.

On the morning of the third day after Jesus had been crucified, a group of women went to visit the tomb. They were not the first. Earlier that morning, an angel of God descended from heaven. The soldiers guarding the tomb were struck with fear, and the angel moved the stone that sealed the entrance.

The tomb was empty! Just as He promised, Jesus had risen from the dead!

– The HOPE, Chapter 11

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

The past few lessons have dealt with some “meaty” teaching about the resurrection of Jesus. Now, let’s take what we’ve considered in those lessons, and make it very personal. Reading the account from The HOPE above, and considering what you have already learned, try to put yourself in the place of those who loved Jesus. For those who loved Jesus, this was a time of great confusion and loss.

Jesus had filled His followers’ hearts and minds with many hopes and dreams. This wasn’t just a popular religious leader that was being buried in the tomb; this was the One who had given meaning and purpose to every aspect of their lives. When He died, something in them died as well. Their reason for living was buried behind the huge stone that sealed the entrance to His tomb.

Have you ever experienced the death of your dream of something that inspired and gave meaning to your life? Perhaps someone told you your dream was impossible, or the circumstances of your life changed or became so difficult that you could not see any way to follow your dream. Whatever changed, when it did all hope of your dream seemed dead.

Of course, we know as we read on in the resurrection account that Jesus was raised, and so were the hopes of those who loved Him! But beyond all the theology, beyond all the historical proof of its reality, there is something profoundly personal about the resurrection of Jesus. Because of the resurrection, we can know that with God nothing is impossible! No matter what anyone says, no matter how difficult your circumstances, even if your dream appears to have died…with God nothing is impossible! Jesus’ resurrection from the dead brings hope to the discouraged heart! Continue reading