“Born again” as a term for salvation, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg Bible Study Material

Text: John 3:1-8 NIV

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]

Commentary

This phrase “born again” refers to the inner spiritual renewal as a result of the power of God in a person’s life. The phrase “born again” comes from John 3:3, 7, where Jesus told Nicodemus, “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus meant that all people are so sinful in God’s eyes that they need to be regenerated (re-created and renewed) by the sovereign activity of God’s Spirit (John 3:5–8). The only other occurrence of the term “born again” is found in 1 Peter 1:23. The phrase “new birth” occurs only once – in 1 Peter 1:3. The activity of God’s Spirit that regenerates sinful people comes about through faith in Jesus (John 3:10–21). Without faith there is no regeneration, and without regeneration a person does not have eternal life.

Regeneration occurs at the moment a person exercises faith in Jesus. At that point, his sins are forgiven and he is born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. The new birth is a decisive, unrepeatable and irrevocable act of God. Similar words in the Bible describe the same concept. Paul said, “If anyone is in the Messiah, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Again speaking of John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that to have eternal life he must be born again. The term “new birth” denotes the fundamental change that occurs when a person surrenders his life to the Lord Jesus and is saved. His nature, desire, thoughts and the direction of his life are now in the hands of Jesus who is directing the changes.

Resisting the schemes of the enemy (Neh 6:10-14), by Rev Dr. John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

At this point in our studies on the book of Nehemiah, it has become clear that Nehemiah has faced number of oppositions in his task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Yet with a sense of focus, prayer, discipline, hard work and teamwork, Nehemiah has continued to build the wall to near completion. This study on Nehemiah 6:10-14 seeks to paint the picture of the schemes that the opponents to the project used and how Nehemiah dealt with them. The enemies used the schemes of enticing Nehemiah to sin, becoming cowardly and so to discredit him.

Nehemiah overcame the temptation to hide in the temple to save his life (Neh 6:10-11)

Neh 6:10-11 identifies a man named Shemaiah who seems to be a “secrete informer.” His effort was to hinder and discredit Nehemiah’s work. It is most probable that Shemaiah had to some extent barricaded himself as a way of showing fear and thereby motivating Nehemiah to do likewise. As a “secret informer,” Shemaiah attempted to give Nehemiah a piece of secret advice that the enemies had plotted to kill him. They would come at night to kill him, so the thing to do was to hide for protection in the temple. To Nehemiah, however, he was not to show such fear. He would not run away and would not go into the temple to save his own life. Thus, Nehemiah refused to take Shemaiah’s advice.  What makes this advice a temptation to sin was that, as pointed out in Neh 6:13, such an act would be a perversion of the purpose of the temple and a violation of its sanctity. For only priests should enter there and so to use it for personal protection would be disrespectful to its purpose. Moreover, demonstrating cowardice to flee and hide would be a hindrance to the work. In this case, Nehemiah could not effectively work from a place of hiding. If the people saw him being so cowardly, they too might become afraid and hide to protect themselves, instead of working.

Worth emphasising here is that we need to remember that sin is wrong in and of itself, even when done for personal protection from persecution. We are not to allow people to intimidate us to sin or to be disrespectful or cowardly. When we do that, then we allow them to discredit our work and defeat our efforts for good. It could be observed that merely fleeing in and hiding itself is not sinful. Some New Testament apostles, preachers, and Christians often fled for safety. They did not, however, stop their work of preaching the gospel.

Nehemiah discerned that the enemies had hired a false teacher to put fear into him (Neh 6:12-14)

Nehemiah discerned that Shemaiah’s advice was not from God or in harmony with God’s will. Shemaiah had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat who were the enemies of God’s work. Shemaiah had presented this advice as something God would have Nehemiah do, or perhaps even something that God had revealed by prophecy (compare verse 14). It is dangerous to follow messages that claim to be from God, especially if those messages contradict God’s will.

This story implies that many false prophets are teaching for hire. They appear to have been paid by people to teach as they do. Do we have such prophets in contemporary times?

Nehemiah refused to compromise so he would not subject himself and his work to reproach. It has been already noted that Nehemiah realised that Shemaiah had been hired to tempt him to be afraid, hide in the temple and consequently sin. The overall intention was to discredit Nehemiah for his sin and cowardice. Had Nehemiah listened to this advice, he would have shown cowardice, neglected the work, and abused the purpose of the temple. It is clear from this passage that when people cannot intimidate God’s people to stop working for God, they often try to discredit them so other people will not listen to them or follow their teaching. They may try to do this through false accusations. If that plan does not work, then they try to get us to sin, so they can have grounds to accuse and discredit us. A similar issue is reflected in the story of Balaam and Balak (Revelation 2:14).

The implication from this matter is that leaders need to live courageously and in purity. At all costs, we need to avoid sin in the context of false teaching, temptation, threats, and intimidation. Failure to live pure lives will discredit our work and hinder God’s purpose.

Nehemiah again prayed to God to deal with his enemies (Neh 6:14)

Reading the book of Nehemiah indicates that Nehemiah was a man of prayer and so recognized the value of prayer in times of temptation and opposition. Nehemiah repeatedly turned to God in prayer for strength to deal with the enemies. The content of the prayer was that he asked God to remember the sinful acts of Tobiah and Sanballat. Nehemiah then mentioned prophetess Noadiah and other prophets who were involved in the attempt to make him afraid. This indicates that many were involved in the temptation of Nehemiah and that their attempt did involve the use of prophecy to try to frighten him.

The example of Nehemiah’s prayer shows that it is not wrong to call upon God to bring justice and punishment to evildoers. We are not called upon to take personal vengeance. Instead, we should leave vengeance to God. Reminding God that such people do deserve God’s punishment is appropriate.

Questions

  1. To what extent can a ‘prophetic message’ be a scheme of the enemy against our lives?
  2. In which forms do some people discredit Ministers of the gospel in contemporary times?
  3. Is it sometimes appropriate to pray to God to deal with our enemy?

Knowing the strategies of the enemy, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Nehemiah 2:19-20 brings out the theme of opposition first identified in 2:10. The main opposing figures are two. They are Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. Later accounts include Geshem the Arabian (Neh 2:19; 4:1). These men were greatly upset that someone had come to help the Israelites with their problems. Like Nehemiah, those serving God will inevitably encounter opposition. In this study, therefore, an attempt is made to look at the strategies that these identified adversaries used to oppose Nehemiah in building the wall of Jerusalem. Accordingly, we will look at how Nehemiah skillfully responded to these adversaries and thus what we can learn from each strategy. Before looking at their strategies, it is important that we briefly study their backgrounds.

Knowing Nehemiah’s Adversaries

Nehemiah’s efforts to building the wall encountered opposition by some people who could be identified as enemies. It is interesting to imagine that some people could just stand out to oppose a good project. Insightfully, it could be observed that these men were all enemies of the Jews.

Nehemiah 4:2 tells us that Sanballat belonged to the army of Samaria. This presupposes that he was part of the mixed breed of Samaritans who had been brought into the land by the Assyrians after they removed the northern tribes of Israel into captivity. In this case, they were not real Israelites and had no inheritance in Israel (2:20). Worshipping God was a perversion. They professed to serve God but included idol worship. Tobiah was an Ammonite. The Amonites were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot. The Ammonites lived near the desert east of the Jordan River.

Geshem was an Arab. The Arabians have not been mentioned much in the Old Testament and they appear to have traveled from place to place without settling in any one area. By this time, however, at least some of these people must have lived in or near the area of Jerusalem. So they were not happy to see the Jews prosper.

All three of these men had some local authority and influence. It is most probable that they were among the governors because they reacted immediately after Nehemiah reported about his project.

It is most probable that our human opposers might be influenced by long family history or cultural traditions. It is worth trying to briefly look at some background information of our adversaries for a possible wise response.

The strategies that the enemy used to oppose the work

  1. Grieving  (Neh 2:10)
  2. Mockery (laughter) – (Neh 2:19)
  3. Wrath and indignation (Neh 4:1-3)
  4.  Fighting – (Neh 4:7-8)
  5. Subtlety or crafty (6:5-7).
  6. Accusation – (6:5-9)

Let us arise and build (Nehemiah 2:11-18), Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg, Bible study material

Introduction

This studies on Nehemiah 2:11-19 focuses on the dynamics of sharing a vision and motivating others to engage in projects for transformational development. It brings out the essentials of motivating others for transformational development in the Church and our communities. In this light, the steps that Nehemiah took when he arrived in Jerusalem for the building of the wall of Jerusalem, to be discussed include, taking reflective rest, examination of the broken wall, inspiring confidence in some core team, communicating the vision and owning the vision by the people to rebuild the wall.

Examining and analysing the situation (Neh 2:11-15)

Upon reaching Jerusalem, as a first step, Nehemiah rested for three days. What he did in these three days is not clear in the passage. However, it is most probable that he used the time to thoughtfully plan his vision and mission. To accomplish a great task, planning should be key. Second, Nehemiah went on his fact-finding mission to have a fresh experience of the broken wall. In this effort, he went alone, especially at night. Worth learning from Nehemiah is that he did not only rely on the reports on the wall. He took time to investigate for himself before taking the next step.

Sharing the vision to rebuild the wall (Neh 2:16-17)

Nehemiah kept his plan of rebuilding the wall secrete. For the other officials of the Jews knew nothing about his plan. He had told them nothing of his purpose nor of his examination of the wall. In these verses and at this point, however, Nehemiah met with them and explained to them his intention. As a first step, Nehemiah motivated them by describing the problem they were facing. He explained to them about the distress they find themselves in because of the broken wall and the burning of the gate. It is important to state here that although the people knew the problem, they had not yet thought of the seriousness of the problem. In this case, Nehemiah encouraged them to build the wall so they would no longer be in reproach. The wall gave them security, power and influence. Also, building the wall related to restoring their favour and sense of dedication to God.

In relating Nehemiah’s call to rebuilding the wall to the building God’s church, it could be observed that sometimes, God’s church faces some internal and external problems. Sometimes the church has only a few committed members. Other times there are some doctrinal challenges, problems about immorality among members and the inability of the members to get along with other members. In all these challenges, the members need to be motivated to work and as a first attempt, we are called to describe to them in honest terms the problems that they face.

Nehemiah communicated his credibility and how God has been to him to the leaders

In motivating others to join in the project, Nehemiah also shared his credibility with the people. First, he told them about the good things that he had already accomplished. Nehemiah had the favour of God and that of the king in the diaspora. It is important to emphasize here that Nehemiah constantly gave God the credit. Establishing integrity and winning the confidence of people is essential in successful leadership.

Favourable response of the people: The call to action (Neh 2:18)

Having received Nehemiah’s vision, the people responded by saying, “Let us rise up and build!” They strengthened themselves for the work. For that reason, they made the necessary preparations. They did not just talk about what needed to be done. They immediately proceeded to do what was needed to accomplish the job. They moved from talking to action. This positive attitude is what is needed today in building God’s Church and God’s Kingdom.

Worthy of note here is that many people are willing to do something for God if they have good leaders to challenge them. The world and God’s churches need dedicated leadership for transformation. In Nehemiah’s time, the wall had been broken for so many years. Yet they had no leader to motivate them to work till Nehemiah came to the scene.

Conclusion

Having a dream of a better future is one thing. Sharing the dream with others to own it and getting them involved is another thing. In Neh 2:11-18, Nehemiah describes how he took the necessary steps in sharing his vision and motivating others to get involved. It is important to observe that meaningful communication is an essential step in bringing about the transformation of our communities. Share the dream and be willing to get others involved. The positive response of the people has a lot to tell us. The goal should be towards joining the vision and the task of building God’s Kingdom without being concerned about who gets the credit. God’s name would be glorified at the end of the project. Let us, therefore, arise and build, for there is more to be done in God’s Kingdom. The call to action is now.

Reading Nehemiah 2:1-12 from the perspective of Emotional Intelligence, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This study focuses on reading Nehemiah 2:1-10 from the perspective of emotional intelligence. It applies the essential elements of emotional intelligence in understanding how Nehemiah related with the King, made requests and thus obtained permission and other resources to embark on his vision of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. To do that, the meaning of emotional intelligence is first looked at.

Understanding emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) has to do with the ability to recognize, understand and manage one’s own emotions for personal development. Emotional Intelligence has the other objective of recognizing, perceiving and influencing the emotions of others for meaning impacts.

Studying Emotional Intelligence brings to light the knowledge that emotions can influence our behaviour and impact people either positively or negatively. It thus brings out the dynamics of learning how to manage our emotions and that of others. Managing emotions is especially important in all aspects of personal and interpersonal relationships at our workplaces, in the context of our marriages and family relationships. Most importantly, it helps us to get along with people in the Church which is the household of God.

As a psychological term, Emotional Intelligence is built on the foundation that emotional conditions determine thoughts. The condition of our emotions affects how our brain functions thereby affecting how we make decisions and relate with others. In this light developing our emotional intelligence is needed for the success of both our personal and professional lives. On the one hand, Emotional Intelligence equips us to engage in sensitive conversations without hurting feelings. It also strengthens us in managing our emotions when we are stressed up and thus feel overwhelmed. In other words, by studying about our own Emotional Intelligence, our relationships with others could be improved.

Applying Emotional Intelligence elements to read Neh 2:1-10

By applying the perspective of Emotional Intelligence to read Nehemiah 2:1-10, the basic elements of Emotional Intelligence which are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills will be used. Self-conscious people are aware of their feelings and motives and how their emotions affect themselves and others. Self-regulation has to do with controlling oneself in order not to make impulsive decisions. In this light, one thinks about the consequences of an action before making decisions. The component of motivation relates to purpose and productivity. What this means is that an emotionally intelligent person has the benefit of having the big picture (purpose) in mind and how one’s actions contribute to the success of that goal. Empathy is meant emotionally intelligent people empathize with others and their situations. Here, that person tends to be a good listener, slow to judge, and understands the needs and wants of others. From this perspective, an emotionally intelligent person is often regarded as a loyal and compassionate friend.

Regarding social skills, the emotionally intelligent person can collaborate with others and to work in teams. That person tends to possess strong communication skills and ability and so tends to be a very good leader.

In reading Nehemiah 2:1-10, we will therefore discuss how these elements apply to the roles played by the characters: Nehemiah, King Artaxerxes and Sanballat and Tobiah.

Self-awareness – showing emotions in the face (Neh 2:1-3)

In exercising his official duties as a Cupbearer as pointed out in Nehemiah 1:11, Nehemiah presents himself as serving wine to the king. Worthy of note is the fact that “wine” in the Bible does not always mean fermented or intoxicating wine as the term generally suggests today (Isaiah 16:10; 65:8; Jeremiah 48:33).

Normally, Nehemiah appeared to be a happy person. For he writes that he had not been sad or sorrowful in disposition when he was in the presence of the king. However, being cheerful and full of smiles is not always possible. For burdens sometimes weigh the hearts down, steal the facial glory and saddens the spirit. On this occasion, Nehemiah appeared to be sad, and the king noticed it and asked about the cause. When asked his sadness, Nehemiah admitted and explained his heart burdens.

Nehemiah also admitted his great fear. Serving God is not always easy. Sometimes, there are emotional challenges. To begin, Nehemiah had great sorrow when he heard of the troubles in Jerusalem. Here, he had great fear before the king. It is important to state that those who please God are those who manage their emotional fears and griefs. Nehemiah had every reason to be afraid. First, he was about to make a request of the powerful human king at the time. Second, it was probable that the King could become angry and so punish Nehemiah. Last, Nehemiah had every reason to be afraid because it was improper for a cupbearer and other servants to allow their personal lives to affect their service and demeanour before the king.

Empathy- Perceiving the emotional state of others and seeking for ways to help them

King Artaxerxes knew Nehemiah was not physically ill. He therefore concluded that it was sorrow of heart. The king perceived the condition of Nehemiah’s heart (Proverbs 15:13). The king was indeed a perceptive and wise king.  After receiving the answer, he went further to look for a possible way he could help Nehemiah by asking what Nehemiah wanted. Most appropriately the king asked for specifics in that he wanted to know how long the trip would take.

Self-regulations – Nehemiah managed his fear and grief through contemplative prayer

Managing our emotions by facing our emotional fears and grief thereby conquering them to do God’s will despite hardships pleases God. In managing his fears, Nehemiah appealed to the invisible higher authority who is God. Paul entreats the Philippians to cast all their cares onto God.

Motivation – Nehemiah explained his reasons for his deamenour and made requests

When asked about his demeanour, Nehemiah explained that it was reasonable for him to be troubled considering the problems in his homeland. For the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. This is the city where his father had lived and been buried. Motivated by his vision, Nehemiah asked the king for permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city.

Social Skills – Nehemiah respected authorities

In his response, Nehemiah first expressed great respect for the king. He said, “Let the king live forever!” In modern times, that would be, “Long live the king!” This was a common way of praising the king. It demonstrated how people valued the king and wished that his service continues (1 Kings 1:31; Daniel 2:4; 5:10; 6:6,21).  Social skills teach one to speak respectfully to people in positions of power, especially when we have a great request to make of them. It also has to do with humility towards one another and that of developing team skills.

Conclusion

Contrary to the emotions exhibited by Sanballat and Tobiah in Nehemiah 2:10, King Artaxerxes was happy to grant Nehemiah’s request. When people are emotionally intelligent, they empathise with others in their needs. In this case, the king was favourable and granted all Nehemiah’s requests. Nehemiah gave thanks to God for this favourable result. He had repeatedly made request of God for these blessings, so it was only right that he then give God credit when the blessings were granted. We should remember this too in our prayers to God.

Praying through the content of Nehemiah’s model prayer (Nehemiah 1:5-11), by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Nehemiah 1:5-11 summarises Nehemiah’s prayer after he heard of the distress of the Jews in Jerusalem. In this case, Nehemiah’s prayer contains praise, confession of sins, an affirmation of God’s promises and petition. It is important to state that a prayer that aims at transformation should be fashioned along this line. The content of Nehemiah’s prayer serves as a prayer model for contemporary Christians.

Nehemiah praised God (Ne 1:5)

Nehemiah adored God as the God of heaven who is great and awesome. He addressed God as the one who keeps the covenant of love with those who love God and obey God’s promises. Indeed, the God that Nehemiah prayed to is the one true God, who is the ruler of heaven and earth. In prayer, we ought to remind ourselves that God deserves our worship and praise. Acknowledging the greatness and awesomeness of God should therefore be our foremost priority whenever we come to God in prayer. This model implies that our prayers should not just be in the form of making requests before God. Praising God is always appropriate before we ask something from God.

Nehemiah confessed sins (Ne 1:7)

The second element of Nehemiah’s prayer was the confession of sins, not just his own sins but also, that of the sins of his people, Israel. For this motive, Nehemiah repeatedly used the plural personal pronoun “we.” This effort implies that Nehemiah was not only concerned about his sins, but he identified himself in the corporate sinfulness of his people.  For the corporate sins required corporate confession.

In this regard, Nehemiah confessed and acknowledged his own sins in addition to the sins of his family and the people of Israel. He openly admitted their corrupt conduct toward God. To him, they had not kept God’s commands, statutes, and ordinances as given through Moses. Although Christians are not under law but grace, yet we are called upon to confess when we sin (1 John 1:9).

Nehemiah recalled God’s promises (Neh 1:8-10)

Having prayed for forgiveness of sins, Nehemiah recalled God’s promises to return the people of Israel from captivity. God had told Israel that God would disperse them among the nations should they become unfaithful. However, if they repent and keep God’s promises, they would be brought back to their promised nation (Deuteronomy 4:25-31). To Nehemiah, his people had been unfaithful and as such were scattered. Nehemiah was hereby urging God to keep the second part of the promise, namely, to return the people when they repented and bless them again in the land.

Learning from this model of prayer, therefore, Christians are called upon to claim God’s promises in prayer. In prayers, we are to trust God to fulfil God’s holistic promises which are for our spiritual, social, material and emotional wellbeing. Most importantly, Christians are enjoined to know Scripture and pray according to Scripture.

Nehemiah petitioned God (Neh 1:11)

Nehemiah’s prayer concludes by asking God for help.  Some Christians begin their prayers here instead of first adoring God, confessing our sins and reminding God of God’s promises. From the perspective of Nehemiah, therefore, an adoration should precede supplication. In this model prayer, Nehemiah was not requesting on his own behalf.

It is important to pray for ourselves and the things that we need. However, remembering to pray for the needs of others especially God’s people should form an essential part of our prayer life. Nehemiah pointed out that he prayed specifically for favour before the king. He wanted God to bless and prosper him in his attempt to request something from the king. Among others, therefore, as Nehemiah did, we are to pray to God for the things that are profoundly important in life, especially for God’s blessings of our work for God. We are to pray for God’s strength, prosperity and blessings in our lives.

Conclusion and application

The content of Nehemiah’s prayer which involves adoration, confession, scriptural promises, and petitioning God should serve as our model prayer. Effective prayer for the total transformation of our lives and communities should contain these elements. It is important to remind ourselves that these elements could be related to the content of the Lord’s prayer as thought by our Lord Jesus Christ in Mathew 6:9-13. In analysing the Lord’s prayer, it is clear, the Lord Jesus taught us to adore God and thus hallow God’s name, confess our sins, affirm scripture and petitioned God who is addressed as our father in heaven. In this light, a Christian has prayed well if he has prayed through these models.

DEVELOPING VISION FOR TRANSFORMATION, REV DR JOHN KWASI FOSU

Studies on Nehemiah 1:1-4, 10

Introduction

Having studied the introductory material on the book of Nehemiah, this material begins our verse-by-verse studies of the book. The first chapter of the book gives a detailed account of how Nehemiah developed a passion to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Though in a foreign land, when Nehemiah heard about the situation of his homeland, he took appropriate steps to solve the problem.

Steps to developing a transformational vision

In developing a vision for transformation and particularly learning from the example of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 1 invites us, first to know who we are and determine to make impacts wherever we find ourselves. Nehemiah 1 invites us, second, to be abreast with the current state of affairs or information by asking questions, and third, to retreat in fasting and prayer thereby seeking divine strength. For relevant applications, these themes are studies together with contextually relevant applications.

  1. Nehemiah introduced (Nehemiah 1:1, 10) – Determine to make impacts wherever we are

The book of Nehemiah is introduced in Nehemiah 1:1 as the words of Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah. This description could mean, either he wrote the book, or that the story records his life and words but someone else actually recorded it.

Not much is known about Nehemiah apart from what is written in this book. The name Nehemiah means the Lord comforts. Nothing is known about his father Hachaliah. Nehemiah was identified as an important person in many ways. He had the strategic responsibility of being the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11). The Persian king readily made him governor of Judea (10:1). Thus, just like Daniel and Esther, he was a Jew who became prominent in the diaspora. He was in the citadel of Susa.

Relevant implications

Studying Nehemiah’s background identifies two implications. First, not much is known about Nehemiah’s background. However, in looking at his father’s name, it is most probable that Nehemiah did not hail from a prominent family. In developing a vision for transformation, it is important to remind ourselves that what matters most is where God is leading us and not where we are coming from. God is always interested in our availability and not our qualifications. Most importantly God qualifies the called.

Second, being a cupbearer in a nation of his captivity implies that he was loved by the people and he knew what it is to survive in a diaspora. It is most probable that he passed the challenging test of integration.

2. Desire to see God’s work and God’s people prosper – Ask questions to develop a vision

While in a diaspora, Nehemiah received a visit from one of his brothers, Hanani and other men who came from Judah with him. Nehemiah demonstrated his concern by asking these men about the welfare of the Jews who had returned from captivity to Jerusalem. Answering this question led to a discussion that informed Nehemiah about the problems in Judah, which in turn introduces the theme of the book. The visitors told Nehemiah that the remnants of the people in Jerusalem were facing severe problems and so they were in distress and reproach. The wall of the city of Jerusalem was broken down and the gates burned with fire.

The Babylonians had done this when they overthrew the city (2 Kings 25:8-10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Jeremiah 52:12-14). Ancient cities needed walls for protection from enemies. A city with a broken wall, therefore, symbolized a city in defeat and desolation (Nehemiah 2:17). It was this information that deeply grieved Nehemiah and thus saw it to be an opportune time of restoration and rebuilding the nation.

Relevant implications

Forming an essential part of our desire to see God’s work and people prosper is asking questions and being abreast with what is happening today.  Many problems confront God’s people in contemporary times namely worldliness, neglect of God’s work, increasing rates of divorce and remarriage, perversion of church organization and work, immoral entertainment, humanism, family problems, lack of dedicated leaders, profanity, smoking, alcoholism and negligence in spreading the gospel. Whereas some of God’s people are doing well to solve some of these problems, others have their walls completely broken down and the gates have been burned. In this light, asking questions and being informed serve as our creative attempt to develop visions for transformation.

3. Seek divine strength through repentance, fasting and prayer – Draw strength from God

Upon hearing the condition of God’s people, Nehemiah wept and mourned, fasted, and prayed to God. He did that for “many days,” and not just a few minutes. It is important to emphasize here that fasting was Nehemiah’s means of expressing sorrow and grief, associated with a prayer to God (Cf. Ezra 8:21; 9:3ff; 10:1ff).

Relevant implications

There is one thing knowing about a problem and there is another thing showing deep concern thereby seeking to help the situation. This is demonstrated through prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting are ways of going to God for strength and help. Grieving and complaining over a situation does not solve the problem unless one goes further in taking appropriate steps to overcome the problems.

Conclusion

God has a plan for us. Developing transformative vision serves as the starting point of walking in God’s design for our lives. Reading Nehemiah 1:1-4 informs us of the need to make impacts wherever we are, develop Godward vision and take appropriate steps to solve problems we encounter. In all these, Nehemiah made prayer and fasting his utmost priority to draw strength to carry out his vision.

Overview and outline of the book of Nehemiah, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This material looks at the general overview of the book of Nehemiah. By so doing, the general features that include the major characters, key words and division of the book. It is anticipated that this background study will enable us get a balance perspective.

Significant features

The book of Nehemiah covers a period of about 12 years from 445 – 433 BC (1:1 and 13:6).  The key words and important emphasis are political and spiritual restoration.  Nehemiah 1:4 – 11, 2:17, 5:14, and 6:15 constitute key verses of the book.  Key characters are Nehemiah, Artaxerxes, and Ezra.  Chapter 6 is the key chapter.  It is about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. 

Divisions of Nehemiah

A basic outline divides the book of Nehemiah in 2 parts. First is the reconstruction of the walls, chapters 1 – 7.  Second is the Nehemiah chapters 8 – 13. These chapters have to do with the restoration of the people.

Overview 

The walls of Jerusalem were almost rebuilt after 464 BC when Artaxerxes the 1st began his rule in Persia.  Then, Nehemiah heard that opposition led to their 2nd destruction and he felt intense sorrow (1:3 – 4).  Hearing the situation, Nehemiah spent 4 months in prayer.  Since no one was to be sad in the king’s presence, Nehemiah was afraid when the king noted his sadness (2:1 – 2).  However, this provided an opportunity to request a leave of absence from the king’s service in order to go to Jerusalem.  Nehemiah was given permission to go and was given access to building materials for the project.

The people at Jerusalem shared Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls.  In chapters 4 – 6, opposition arose from the enemies on the outside and from certain Jews on the inside.  Being a man of prayer and wisdom, Nehemiah led the people through the difficult days.  In only 52 days of work, the walls of Jerusalem were completed (6:15).  There was still much work necessary in strengthening the walls and in rebuilding the city itself.  Nehemiah organized the city and a militia to defend it.    

It is a mistake to think that Nehemiah was only interested in a physical restoration of the nation.  In Nehemiah  8:1 – 18, we see that he was deeply committed to teaching the nation to live according to the Law of God.  Ezra read from the Law (the Scriptures) and explained its meaning to the thousands who gathered.  Genuine revival occurred based on the Word of God.  Genuine revival brings about changed behavior.  These chapters record not only the confession of sin (9:2 – 3) but also a change in living (10:30 – 39).

When Nehemiah left Jerusalem, much of his influence also left.  During his absence, certain sins were tolerated in national life.  Nehemiah returned 12 years later (13:7 – 11, 23 – 25) and he dealt with the offenders.  With the reforms of Nehemiah, the Old Testament closes.  After this, there is no inspired record for over 400 years.  The next Word from God will be the angel Gabriel announcing the coming birth of John the Baptist.  The book of Nehemiah closes the history of the nation of Israel.

Conclusion

In many ways, the time of Ezra and Nehemiah could be related to ours. God’s people had been in disobedience, which led to the Babylonian captivity. For some leaders had begun the work of restoring the people to God’s service. However, there were still many problems and the people continued to fall into sin. The ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah were to provide transformational leadership to continue the restoration and to challenge the people to spiritual faithfulness.

Essential themes in the book of Nehemiah, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

In our previous studies, we learnt that the book of Nehemiah was written to show the work of God through a godly leader, Nehemiah.  This study material aims at highlighting some essential themes one encounters upon reading Nehemiah. Among others, these themes include leadership, vision, prayer, resilience and spiritual warfare, and spiritual renewal. It is important to first study these themes in the book of Nehemiah to gain a detailed perspective on the entire book.  

Leadership

Leadership is the first and most important theme to discover upon reading the book of Nehemiah. For Nehemiah demonstrated excellent leadership. Nehemiah was ready to obey God’s call to lead.  Some successful leadership traits identified in the book of Nehemiah includes careful planning, teamwork, problem solving, and courage to get the work done (Nehemiah 2:11-21). Nehemiah, therefore, combined tremendous faith with hard work needed for good leadership. He demonstrates what it means to be a godly leader. Leadership is not just about gaining recognition and holding a position of power. It is about assuming responsibility that demands planning, hard work, courage, and perseverance.

Vision

The theme of developing godly vision and for thus accomplishing it comes out clearly as we read Nehemiah. Although the early Jewish returnees had completed the Temple in 515 B.C., yet the city walls were broken. Among other things these walls were significant in that they represented power, protection, and beauty to the city of Jerusalem. The walls were also needed to protect the Temple from attack and thus for continuous worship. As Nehemiah heard about the condition of the wall, God put the desire to rebuild the walls in his heart, giving him a vision for the work (Nehemiah 2:17-21). Reading Nehemiah should therefore, orient us to ask, are there broken “walls” in our societies and churches that need to be built today? Visions are borne out of the recognition of deep needs around us and in our world.

Prayer  

Prayer can transform people and societies. Reading the book Nehemiah reveals that as Nehemiah was called by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he prayed for forgiveness, favour, strength, wisdom and for protection. Nehemiah presented everything to God in prayer as a way of responding to problems (Nehemiah 4:4,9; 5:19; 6:14). In this perspective, prayer serves as God’s mighty force in solving problems today. The example of Nehemiah reveals that prayer and action go hand in hand. For that reason, prayer serves as a means in which God guides our preparations for achieving our goals, teamwork, and hard work.

Resilience and strategic warfare

The book of Nehemiah reveals how leaders and for that matter all seeking transformation are to resist oppositions and to behave in difficult times. Having begun the work, Nehemiah encountered opposition in the form of scorn, slander, and threats from enemies. He was also confronted by fear, conflict, and discouragement from his own workers. Yet these problems did not stop Nehemiah from completing the work. To accomplish any difficult task, one must be ready to overcome difficulties. For there are no victory without troubles and no testimony without growing through test. Demonstrating resilience means that we are to face difficulties squarely and press on to finish the task.

Spiritual renewal

To Nehemiah, rebuilding the wall was not complete until the spiritual lives of the people were rebuilt. For this reason, Ezra instructed the people in God’s Word so they could recognize the sin in their lives and thus took steps to deal with it (Nehemiah 8:1-12). It is not enough for one to admit his or her sin. Instead, spiritual renewal must result in transformative lives. God requires our complete devotion of heart and minds (Nehemiah 13:14, 22, 29, 31). In other words, God wants to be in the center of our hearts.

Reflections and Conclusion

Reflecting through the themes in the book of Nehemiah as presented in this material, the idea of what it means to lead comes to mind. In this case, Nehemiah demonstrates what it means to combine zealous human efforts through detailed planning and hard work with God’s divine empowering and wisdom. For Nehemiah intermittently affirmed the hand of God upon his life for the task ahead of him. Notwithstanding, he assumed his human responsibility of careful planning, hard work and resisting the enemy. Worth noting here is that these themes, as surveyed, are essential aids in our journey of transformation.

Introducing the book of Nehemiah: Inspired to transform lives and communities, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg welcomes you to 2021, especially as we embark on the theme of divine transformation. In this year, it is anticipated that the members of the church will be strengthened in their hearts, minds, emotions and actions to the transformation God wants us to be. In the light of this theme and for our weekly bible studies we seek to study the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. In addition to surveying the content of the book, we will explore its major themes such as prayer, leadership, hard work and discipline, vision and planning and provision of God.

The main purpose of this lesson material is to look at the general overview of the book through surveying its background information such as its authorship and date, purpose and historical background. Most importantly, these studies would be looked at from the perspective of lives and communities.

Historical background of Nehemiah

Under King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took most of the inhabitants into Exile in 586 BC. In 2 Kings 24:14, King Nebuchadnezzar, “… carried all Jerusalem into exile: all the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans—a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.” Gloomy as it was, God promised them future restoration. For inherent within the nature of God is that God gives hope to God’s people in that God does not abandon them nor leave them without hope (Jeremiah 29:11-14).

In the light of God’s restoration plan, in 539 BC the Persians and Medes, led by Cyrus the Great, defeated the Babylonians and ended the Exile. In the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah, God’s people returned to the Land of Promise in three distinct groups in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The first was under the leadership of Zerubbabel. In this group, the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and restore the sacrificial system (Ezra 1-6). Under the second group, led by the scribe Ezra, the people returned to Jerusalem to start a spiritual and social renewal among God’s people. Ezra purposed to rebuild the religious life of the community by teaching them the Torah (Ezra 7-10). Nehemiah was called by God to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city (Nehemiah 1-6) under the third wave of the returnees. Along with the scribe Ezra, Nehemiah, they rebuilt the spiritual life of God’s people (Nehemiah 7-13).

The Author and date of the book of Nehemiah

Some scholars have claimed that the inspired writer of the book was Ezra because Ezra and Nehemiah as Old Testament books were historically put together (as evidenced in the Septuagint and Vulgate). However, as the title of the name of the book suggests, it is most probable that Nehemiah is the author of this book (1:1).  Further, the fact that the first-person pronoun, I was predominantly used in the book supports Nehemiah’s authorship.

Who then was this Nehemiah?

The name Nehemiah means the Lord comforts. Reading the book of Nehemiah shows that Nehemiah was found serving in Susa, the winter residence of the Persian kings. Though Nehemiah is an Israelite, he served in a position of great trust and responsibility. In Nehemiah 1:11c, we read that Nehemiah serves as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. His job is to ensure that the king’s wine is not poisoned, but safe to drink. In this case, Nehemiah had full access to the king. Upon learning that the walls of Jerusalem are broken down and that God’s people are vulnerable, Nehemiah asks and receives permission from King Artaxerxes to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city. The cupbearer to the king then became a builder of the wall, and in the process, rebuilds God’s people into a nation. What a great life of transformation!

Obvious in the book of Nehemiah is the beautiful balance in the life of Nehemiah.  He balanced a zealous human effort and detailed planning with God’s divine empowering.  Living and ministering with Nehemiah during this same period was Ezra.  Besides, Malachi preached during this time. 

Date of the book of Nehemiah

The date of writing would be around 440 – 423 BC during the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. 

Purpose of the book of Nehemiah

The book was written to show the work of God through a godly leader, Nehemiah.  Nehemiah leads the 3rd and last group of exiles back to their homeland.  The book records the building, fortifying, and re-establishing of the city of Jerusalem and its people. 

Conclusion and application

This record of events in the book of Nehemiah demonstrates that one person can accomplish much when he/she is empowered, encouraged, and called by God. Reading Nehemiah as diaspora Christians should challenge and orient us to the task of returning to our homelands, if in persons are not possible, then in terms of mobilizing resources for building our homelands. Hopefully, studying the book of Nehemiah will lend us the needed support and insight for developing vision and leadership, and inspiring confidence to transform lives and communities.

Glories of humble beginnings, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Humble beginnings characterise people God uses. In other words, preparations in the wilderness precede great ministries. It is said that a journey of thousand miles begins with a step. All the exciting things you see today have their beginning smaller than the end.  This means that you must have a starting point in everything that you intend to achieve in life. There are references in the Bible. David started as a shepherd, but he became a king at the end of his life. Joseph started as a slave in Potiphar’s house but later became a prime minister of Egypt. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ had a humble beginning of being born in a manger. This study looks at the lives of Moses, David, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ with particular attention to their humble beginnings.

Moses

Like the birth of Jesus, the circumstance surrounding Moses’ birth was that of danger. Being prevented from childhood death, baby Moses was left to float alone in the river. As preparation for his ministry, Moses spent 40 years in Egypt to learn the ways of the world, the flesh and the Devil. Afterward, Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness before his ministry began (Exodus 3:1). In the wilderness, Moses had to learn the truth that walking with God was more valuable, precious, and rewarding than anything that the world and the Devil could offer (Heb.11:26). As Moses kept the sheep he learned the ways of God.

David

David is another person who had a humble beginning. Being the youngest among his brothers, David was left to tend sheep and so learned the lessons of faith while keeping sheep. His concern for his beloved sheep, enabled him, through the Name and power of God, to kill the lion and the bear that threatened to kill his sheep. Most probably, David’s devotion to his sheep caused God to refer to him as “David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart.” David’s father, Jesse did not even think that David should be present when Samuel asked him to bring his sons before him. For he had left him outside looking after the sheep (1 Sam16:1-13). Even Samuel, who was a godly and wise prophet, initially thought that Eliab was God’s choice, until God revealed Eliab’s heart to Samuel, and showed that the uninvited and despised boy David was God’s choice. David also spent many years in the wilderness, being pursued by Saul (1 Samuel 23:14, 24).

John the Baptist

The life of John the Baptist is summarized in Luke 1:80: John the Baptist grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. The wilderness in this part of the world of John the Baptist was hot, dry, lonely and harsh. This suggests that John the Baptist had lonely and difficult beginnings. Waiting in the wilderness is more difficult than the stress of work and the pain of persecution.  

Jesus

Reading about the birth of Jesus in the gospels, the humble beginnings of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ becomes clear. For the baby Jesus, who would one day become a Man of miracles, teaching, and compassion began life in a manger. In the wisdom of God, God chose this stable in Bethlehem to be the birthplace. Most probably, God chose such a place to demonstrate to us the value of coming to God in humility. God could have chosen anywhere for Jesus to be born. Jesus, the King, was born in a manger and thus became vulnerable like every other human being. Jesus was born to parents who were looked down upon by many people. Before the commencement of His ministry, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert (Matthew 4:1-2).

Conclusion

Reflecting on the humble beginning of our Lord and Master Jesus, it could be said, therefore, that no matter how small your beginning maybe, you have a promise of a better future. You are therefore encouraged to recognize the value of small beginnings. Start with what you have and like Jesus, Moses and David, despise not small beginnings. Instead, despise the shame of small beginnings. Have you ever had a “wilderness” experience characterized by a period of loneliness and struggle? If yes, it is most probable that God may be preparing you to be one of his significant leaders.

Prophecies concerning Christ’s birth, Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

One of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ has to do with the manner of His birth as foretold in the Old Testament. This write-up therefore briefly looks at the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ’s birth. It shows that Jesus indeed fulfills the prophecies about the coming messiah. Thus, the prophecies concerning Christ’s lineage and birth is therefore presented in this material.

Prophecies Concerning Christ’s Lineage

Virgin Birth

Genesis 3:15 is biblically known as the protevangelium because it is the first prophecy (good news) about Christ. There will be enmity between Satan and Messiah, here identified by the phrase, “her seed.” The phrase “her seed” concerns Mary alone and points to the virgin birth since the Messiah is born of Mary alone. Matthew 1:16 also emphasizes this in the phrase “By whom” (GK. hes), a feminine relative pronoun, emphasizing Jesus was born without Joseph’s participation or sexual influence.

Line of  Abraham

In Genesis 12:2, God promised Abraham, “I will make your name great,” suggesting that the Messiah would come from the posterity of Abraham and that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Matthew 1:1 and Galatians 3:16 interpret this promise (Genesis 13:15) as being fulfilled in Christ.

Line of  Isaac and  Jacob

It was through the descendants of Isaac that God would establish his covenant and institute his blessings (Gen 17:19). The line of Messianic blessings narrows further in that the blessing will not flow through Ishmael, but rather through Jacob (Gen 25:23; 28:13). Numbers 24:17 stresses a ruler (“scepter”) will come through the descendant of Jacob who will crush the enemy and have “dominion” (v. 19; cf Romans 9:10-13).

Line of  Judah

Genesis 49:10 affirms that the Messiah (as King) will come from the tribe of Judah. Messiah, of the tribe of Judah will possess the “scepter.” The king held the scepter in his hand when speaking in Public assemblies; and when he sat upon his throne he rested it between his feet, inclining towards himself. This verse also explains that Judah will sustain a lineage “until Shiloh comes.” Shiloh is variously interpreted: as a title of Messiah meaning “Man of rest;” of Messiah as a pacifier, peacemaker.” Messiah will be a man of peace. The phrase “until Shiloh comes” may be translated “Until He comes to whom it belongs.” And to Him shall be the world in the millennial kingdom.

Line of  David

Messiah will be a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). In this promise to David (v. 16), the Lord indicated his descendant (the Messiah) would have an everlasting dynasty. (“house”); He would rule  (“throne”) over people (“kingdom”), and His rule would be eternal.” Psalm 89 expands this promise.

Prophecies Concerning Christ’s Birth

The Manner of Christ’s Birth

Isaiah 7:14 promised a sign to the unbelieving King Ahaz. The prophecy was that a virgin would bear a son who would be called Immanuel – God with us.In all seven occurrences in the Old Testament, the term “virgin” Hebrew almah never refers to a maiden who has lost her virginity. The passage has both a near and far fulfilment: in the immediate future, it was fulfilled in the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:3), and in the distant future it was fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. See Matthew 1:23 for a commentary on this verse.

The Place of Christ’s Birth

Micah 5:2 identifies the birthplace of Christ as Bethlehem, a small town, too insignificant to be listed among the towns of Judah (Josh 15:60), distinguished from Zebulun (Joshua 19:15). See Matthew 2:6 for the commentary on this verse.

Conclusion

This study about the prophecies concerning Christ’s birth in the Old Testament has demonstrated that Christ is indeed the subject of the Old Testament although not in the same exclusiveness as we find in the New Testament. As part of our preparation for Christmas, it is important to remind ourselves that Christ is the long-awaited Messiah and thus qualifies to be our Lord and saviour. Worshipping Christ in this Christmas season should therefore occupy our topmost priority.

The Church facing opposition from within, by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

The fact remains that Satan is still attacking the believers, and as he does, he uses a dual plan: deception from within (Acts 5:1-16) and persecution from without (Acts 5:17-34). Satan is a liar and a murderer, and we see him operating in both spheres in this chapter. The main purpose for this material is to do an expository study on Acts 5:1-16 with an emphasis on reflecting on the opposition within. Here, we see Satan operating as the serpent, using believers within the assembly to hinder the work of the Lord.

The sin of deception (verses 1 – 2)

Ananias and Sapphira wanted to gain the reputation for being more spiritual than they actually were. When the others brought their donations (4:34 – 37), these two were jealous and wanted the same recognition. Please keep in mind that their sin was not stealing money from God, because Peter stated in verse 4 that it was in their own power to use the money as they wished. Their sin was hypocrisy, trying to appear more spiritual than they really were. They had wanted others to believe they had sacrificed everything when they had only given a portion.

 
The Spirit of discernment at work (verses 3 – 4)

Peter was a man with Spirit – given discernment.  Sin is always discovered in one way or another. This couple had not mentioned anything openly, but the terrible sin was in their hearts. They had lied to the Spirit of God who was graciously working in the hearts of the believers, leading them to sell their belongings and share with others.

 
The consequence of deaths (verses 5 – 11)

This was not a case of “church discipline” since God dealt with the sinners directly. The two deaths illustrate the kind of judgment the Messiah will exercise during the kingdom (Jeremiah 23:5 and Revelation 19:15). Unlike local church discipline, where the pastor and the church investigate a matter, give an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness, and seek to restore the erring ones, this was a definite case of divine judgment. It is interesting to compare this chapter to Joshua 7, where the covetous Achan tried to hide sin from God and was killed. Great fear fell on the church (verse 11) as people saw the hand of God at work.

The testimony (Acts 5:12-16)

The assembly was now unified and magnified, and it therefore multiplied. This will always happen when an assembly is purged of sin. Satan works inside the church and tries to divide it, disgrace it and destroy it.  But if we let the Spirit work, we will detect the devil’s operation and avoid church problems. A local church must have standards and must let the Spirit lead. Note that Peter is the key man at this period of church history.  Even his shadow was thought to bring healing.

Conclusion

Satan still opposes the work of the church from within. Paul warned the elders that wolves would come in from the outside to attack the flock.  Also, men would arise “from among you” to harm the church (Acts 20:29 – 30). The greatest danger the church faces today is not so much opposition from without, but sin from within. Thus, it is important to seek God’s guidance in receiving new members and in disciplining those who stray.

Questions

  1. In which practical ways does Satan oppose the Church from within?
  2. To what extent can the sin of hypocrisy in the form of seeking attention hinder the growth of the local Church?
  3. How does the phenomenon of divine judgment in Acts 5:1-16 compare with that of church discipline practiced in some local Churches?
  4. Is it possible to lie to the Holy Spirit in the local Church and in which ways can that be possible?

Essentials of being part of covenant community of givers, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Acts 4:32-37 describes the early community of believers in Jerusalem. In this study, essentials of communal living are looked at with particular attention to unity in mind, belonging to the Church as covenant community of givers and keys to giving that meet practical needs in the community of believers.

The church as covenant community of those united in mind (Acts 4:32)

Acts 4:32-37 pictures essentials of communal living. The first characteristic is that the early community of believers were united in mind. Jeremiah 32:39 portrays unity as a distinguishing characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the New Covenant.  It is most probable that the unity of “one mind” described in Acts 4:32-37 alludes to 1 Chron 12:38-39 that describes the beginning of the Davidic kingdom.  For the passage portrays that whole nation is of “one mind” to make David king, as demonstrated in their eating and drinking together for three days with David.  Unity of mind does not mean there was no differences in opinion. It could be said that differences of opinion are inevitable among human personalities and can actually be helpful if handled well. The passage therefore brings out the importance of spiritual unity. For it is this virtue that brings out loyalty, commitment, and love for God and his Word. This means that without spiritual unity, the church could not survive.

The church as covenant community of givers

The passage shows that none of the early believers felt that what they had was their own, so they were able to give and share, thereby eliminating poverty among them. The idea was that  they would not let a brother or sister suffer when others had plenty. In this light, concerning our possessions, Christians should adopt the attitude that everything we have comes from God. And so we are to share what is already God’s.  Again, worth noting here is that the early church was able to share possessions and property as a result of the unity brought by the Holy Spirit working in and through the believers’ lives.

Keys to communal sharing

Worth noting here is that this way of communal giving is different from communism as practised in secular countries. The keys to the faithful sharing in the community are that, in the first place, their sharing was voluntary. They did not give out of compulsion.

Next, the giving did not involve all of their private properties. They gave as much as what was needed. The case in point is what Barnabas did. Last but not the least, the giving was not a membership requirement in order to be a part of the church. However, they gave because they saw themselves as saved and belonging to the covenant community of believers.

Conclusion

The spiritual unity and generosity of these early believers attracted others to them. Worth emphasising here is that this organizational pattern about the early church is not a biblical command for every Church to follow. Rather it offers vital principles for the contemporary Church to follow.

Question

  1. How can we be one in mind in our local churches?
  2. To what extent can we learn from Barnabas in order to be faithful members in the community of giving.
  3. Giving is not a requirement to be part of God’s Church. But one cannot claim to be part of God’s church but fails to practice giving. Discuss.

Boldness in defending the Gospel, by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This study on Acts 4:13-31 focuses on the boldness of the Apostles as they faced the Sanhedrin. Reading Acts 4 shows that boldness serves as the theme of the chapter.

Boldness after walking with Jesus

In verses 13 – 17 the disciples were told to leave the council of the Sanhedrin while they considered the case. They were impressed with the boldness of the apostles. This is significant inasmuch as Peter had denied his Lord in fear just a few weeks before. The phrase “unschooled and ordinary” (verse 13) literally means “untaught and unlettered”.  That is, the apostles had not been instructed in the official schools of the rabbis. Yet, they knew so much more about the Scriptures than did the religious leaders. The leaders also realized that these men “had been with Jesus” (verse 13) in the Garden and during His last week in Jerusalem before His death. However, they faced an even greater problem: how could they explain the healing of the beggar? They could not deny the miracle, so they decided to silence the messengers.

Boldness in loyalty to Jesus

The apostles did not accept this verdict of the opposition.  Their loyalty to Jesus, their Lord meant more than any protection from the government. The judges finally had to let them go. The boldness of the disciples, the power of the Word, and the testimony of the healed beggar were too good a “case” and the judges had no answer.

Boldness through corporate prayer (4:23 – 31)

True believers always return “to their own people” (1 John 2:19). The assembly did not lament because persecution had begun.  Rather, the believers rejoiced and prayed! Note that in verses 25 – 26 they referred to Psalm 2, which is a Messianic Psalm, speaking about the day when the Messiah shall return to rule with power. Believers today ought to imitate the first believers in their praying, for they tied their praying to the Word of God (John 15:7).

They prayed for boldness, and God answered by filling them with the Spirit. This was not a “second Pentecost,” for the Spirit came to fill with power and not to baptize the believers. The Holy Spirit also gave them a wonderful unity, so much so that they sold their goods and shared with those in need. This “believers’ communal living” was another proof of the presence of the Spirit, a sample of what will happen in the Kingdom age when all nations have the Spirit and unselfishly love one another. This “communal living” has no relation to Marxist communism. Please note that this sharing of goods was a temporary occurrence and is not required by the church of Jesus today.

While believers today are to have the same spirit of love, they are not expected to sell their goods and form a separate community. In 11:27 – 30, the believers at Antioch sent an offering to the Jerusalem believers (Romans 15:26,

1 Corinthians 16:1 – 3, 2 Corinthians 8:1 – 4 and 9:2).  When Israel rejected the message, this gracious working of the Spirit gradually disappeared. The pattern for New Testament church giving is found in 2 Corinthians 8 – 9, 1 Timothy 5:8 and

2 Thessalonians 3:7 – 13.

Conclusion

“Boldness” seems to be a key thought in this study. The early believers received this boldness as they were filled with the Spirit (verses 8 and 31), prayed and were loyal to Jesus by relying on the word of God. You and I may have boldness in our walk and witness if we feed on the Word, pray and surrender to the Spirit. We may have boldness on earth because Jesus gives us boldness in heaven (Hebrews 4:16 and 10:19).

Boldness in defending the Gospel

Introduction

This study on Acts 4:13-31 focuses on the boldness of the Apostles as they faced the Sanhedrin. Reading Acts 4 shows that boldness serves as the theme of the chapter.

Boldness after walking with Jesus

In verses 13 – 17 the disciples were told to leave the council of the Sanhedrin while they considered the case. They were impressed with the boldness of the apostles. This is significant inasmuch as Peter had denied his Lord in fear just a few weeks before. The phrase “unschooled and ordinary” (verse 13) literally means “untaught and unlettered”.  That is, the apostles had not been instructed in the official schools of the rabbis. Yet, they knew so much more about the Scriptures than did the religious leaders. The leaders also realized that these men “had been with Jesus” (verse 13) in the Garden and during His last week in Jerusalem before His death. However, they faced an even greater problem: how could they explain the healing of the beggar? They could not deny the miracle, so they decided to silence the messengers.

Boldness in loyalty to Jesus

The apostles did not accept this verdict of the opposition.  Their loyalty to Jesus, their Lord meant more than any protection from the government. The judges finally had to let them go. The boldness of the disciples, the power of the Word, and the testimony of the healed beggar were too good a “case” and the judges had no answer.

Boldness through corporate prayer (4:23 – 31)

True believers always return “to their own people” (1 John 2:19). The assembly did not lament because persecution had begun.  Rather, the believers rejoiced and prayed! Note that in verses 25 – 26 they referred to Psalm 2, which is a Messianic Psalm, speaking about the day when the Messiah shall return to rule with power. Believers today ought to imitate the first believers in their praying, for they tied their praying to the Word of God (John 15:7).

Praying corporately for corporate blessings

They prayed for boldness, and God answered by filling them with the Spirit. This was not a “second Pentecost,” for the Spirit came to fill with power and not to baptize the believers. The Holy Spirit also gave them a wonderful unity, so much so that they sold their goods and shared with those in need. This “believers’ communal living” was another proof of the presence of the Spirit, a sample of what will happen in the Kingdom age when all nations have the Spirit and unselfishly love one another. This “communal living” has no relation to Marxist communism. Please note that this sharing of goods was a temporary occurrence and is not required by the church of Jesus today.

While believers today are to have the same spirit of love, they are not expected to sell their goods and form a separate community. In 11:27 – 30, the believers at Antioch sent an offering to the Jerusalem believers (Romans 15:26,

1 Corinthians 16:1 – 3, 2 Corinthians 8:1 – 4 and 9:2).  When Israel rejected the message, this gracious working of the Spirit gradually disappeared. The pattern for New Testament church giving is found in 2 Corinthians 8 – 9, 1 Timothy 5:8 and

2 Thessalonians 3:7 – 13.

Conclusion

“Boldness” seems to be a key thought in this study. The early believers received this boldness as they were filled with the Spirit (verses 8 and 31), prayed and were loyal to Jesus by relying on the word of God. You and I may have boldness in our walk and witness if we feed on the Word, pray and surrender to the Spirit. We may have boldness on earth because Jesus gives us boldness in heaven (Hebrews 4:16 and 10:19).

Salvation in the name Jesus (Acts 4:1-12), by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

The mention of a name brings about mixed feelings to those who hear it. For names constitute one of the most important forces in the universe. The mention of the name Jesus produces a multitude of reactions: both positive and negative feelings. This study on Acts 4:1-12 highlights the power of the name Jesus that brings about salvation and personal wholeness.

Being ready to proclaim Jesus Christ

The whole context of Acts 4:1-12 is on the healing of the lame beggar at the temple’s gate called Beautiful. After the healing of this crippled beggar, Peter used the interest of the multitudes as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. The message centered on the death and resurrection of Christ. In this message, Peter called for repentance and returning to God through faith in the name of Jesus Christ. Peter and John probably were answering questions and giving further exhortations concerning the need for the hearers to come to Jesus Christ.

Persecuted for acts of kindness

Amidst sharing the gospel, some religious leaders and groups, named Sanhedrin and Sadducees decided to thwart their work of evangelization. These were the main religious leaders of the nation. The Sadducees were one of the four parties of religious leaders in Israel (along with Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots). They did not believe in the supernatural and so denied the resurrection of the dead.

It is important to note that not all religious leaders believe in Jesus and are thus willing to defend the name of Jesus. Hence so many systems and some political leaders have the agenda to silence the name of Jesus.

Various reactions about the name Jesus Christ

The name of Jesus has been used both by believers and unbelievers alike. On the one hand, some unbelievers have used the name of Jesus negatively. In this regard some kings have cursed the name Jesus, some multitude has blasphemed it, charlatans have misused the name of Jesus. On the other hand, some believers and for that matter the disciples of Jesus have used the name positively by  proclaiming the name Jesus and the gospel which represent him and his salvation ministry. People can be made whole for eternity only through the name Jesus. Jesus’ name represents Jesus’ life and the entire revelation of him. Jesus’ name thus constitutes the gospel that we preach.

The powerful effect of the name of Jesus

The physical healing of the beggar serves as a demonstration and illustration of our spiritual healing. After being healed, the beggar went “walking and leaping and praising God.” He was a changed man from inside out. He became a new creature in Christ for he was more than just a physically healed man. The whole lifestyle of this man became one of “praising God.” Thus, the gospel of Jesus Christ affects the whole person!

Conclusion and application

There is power in the name of Jesus. There is healing and thus salvation in the name of Jesus. In the light of the power in the name of Jesus, namely, to save, the statement that all religions lead to the same God needs to be questioned. For to Luke, only the name Jesus brings complete wholeness.  Demons and evil Spirits flee when they hear the name Jesus. It is therefore questionable to claim to know Jesus and yet run after other gods.

Questions

  1. What does the name of Jesus mean personally to you?
  2. In the light of Acts 4:12, do all religions truly lead to God?
  3. What are some of the inappropriate ways that, in your opinion, people use the name of Jesus?

Presenting Jesus as our ultimate healer (3:12 – 26), by Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This study on Acts 3:12-26 is a continuation of our previous studies on Peter and John’s healing of the crippled man at the Beautiful gate. As we learned from the previous chapter, Peter used the healing experience to preach the gospel. In this light studying Peter’s sermon in this chapter always presents us with four major aspects including current issues at stake as part of the introduction, presenting of Christ, Scripture and making relevant application of the message to the practical life of the audience.

Peter’s message was a response to a current issue and observation (Acts 3:11-12)

Peter used this healing as an opportunity of the experience to present Jesus and offer forgiveness to the nation. Miraculous events are to be regarded as opportunities to present the gospel. Worth noting here is that genuine manifestations of the Spirit are to be interpreted in the light of scripture.

Peter acknowledged Jesus as the subject of the healing miracle

In presenting the Gospel after the healing event, Peter directed the attention of the people to Christ as the subject of the miracle and not to himself. Peter did not regard himself as the bearer of numinous power but Christ (Acts 3:12). To Peter, the man was healed only through faith in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:16). It is worth noting that, although Peter and John served as human agents, they did not regard themselves as people having power within themselves to do a miracle.  

For Peter preached Jesus to them in recognition of his limitations that he had denied Jesus three times just a few weeks ago. Yet, because he confessed his sin and made things right with the Lord (John 21), Peter was able to forget his failure (Romans 8:32 – 34). How does this scenario inform you about contemporary miracles and the disposition of some men or women of God?

Peter’s message was scripturally based

In the sermon, Peter used the opportunity to discuss scripture which mainly revolved around God’s forgiveness of the nation Israel as recorded in the Old Testament. In this regard, Acts 3:17 is most important, for there Peter stated that Israel’s ignorance caused them to commit the awful crime of crucifying Christ. Ignorance is no excuse, but it does affect the penalty handed out. This is why Jesus prayed — “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). God was now giving Israel one more opportunity to receive their Messiah. Peter promised in Acts 3:19 – 20 that if the nation would repent and receive the Lord, He would blot out their sins (Isaiah 43:25 and 44:22 – 23).  He would send the Messiah to them and give them “times of refreshing.” These “times” were described in Jeremiah 23:5, Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 11:2 – 9, 35:1-6 and 65:19 – 23. Peter was not describing individual salvation here so much as the blessing that would come to the nation if they would but repent and believe. Of course, national salvation depended on personal faith.

Heaven would receive and hold the Messiah until Israel would repent.  Then the “times of restitution” would come. This refers to the kingdom Jesus will set up when Israel turns to Him and believes. Peter states in Acts 3:21 that this event was spoken of by the prophets.  This proved that he was not talking about events of the church. The “mystery” of the church was not revealed to the Old Testament prophets. The prophets spoke of Israel’s future kingdom, and that kingdom would have been set up had the rulers and the people believed Peter’s message and repented.

What about the Gentiles? Peter answered this in Acts 3:25. The Jews were children of Abraham and of God’s covenant, and God would keep His promise to Abraham and bless the Gentiles through Israel. “And all the peoples of the earth shall be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 and 22:18). God’s program in the Old Testament was to bless the Gentiles through a restored Israel and Peter and the other Jewish apostles knew this. They realized that God promised to bless the Gentiles when Israel was established in its kingdom. This is why the apostles could not understand why Paul went to the Gentiles after Israel had been set aside. They did not realize then the “mystery program” that God would reveal to Paul.  This “mystery program” was that through Israel’s fall the Gentiles would be saved (Romans 11:11 – 12). This program was a “mystery” hidden in Old Testament day but revealed through Paul (Ephesians 3). When the nation killed Stephen and committed that “unpardonable sin” against the Holy Spirit, God’s prophetic program for the Jews ended. From that day, Israel was set aside, and the church took center stage.

How did the nation respond to Peter’s invitation? Many of the common people believed and were saved, but the rulers had the apostles arrested. The Sadducees, of course, did not believe in the resurrection and rejected Peter’s message that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The Pharisees hated Jesus because He had condemned them (Matthew 23). The persecution that Jesus promised the apostles in John 15:18 – 16:4 began to take place as we will see in the next chapter.

Peter applied the message to the needs of the audience and invited them to make a decision (Acts 3:17-20)

As a characteristic of Peter in presenting the Gospel, Peter invites his audience to decide for Christ. He called them into repentance so they would be refreshed. Here too, Peter drew their attention that true repentance and life change comes from God

Questions and Areas for discussions

  1. After healing the cripple man, Peter used the opportunity to preach Christ but not Peter’s own abilities. How can we compare that to the contemporary “prophets and miracle workers” in their comments?
  2. Regarding Acts 3:16, explain the major pre-requisite for experiencing miracles?
  3. Who is the subject of genuine repentance – the preacher or God? Discuss