Acts 8 concludes the account of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria— just as Jesus intended. Significant walls of religious division and cultural difference have been broken down. Jesus’ kingdom is for all kinds of people, in all places. All can be saved and become full members of his kingdom. All of which calls us to consider which boundaries we might cross with the gospel.
The book of Acts tracks the growth and spread of the Christian Church, from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. This movement is remarkable in so many ways that today we tend to excuse ourselves for being so different. And yet, nothing has changed. We also are the same people of God. God’s Holy Spirit still lives among us. We are also charged with testifying to Jesus and declaring his gospel of forgiveness of sins.
Acts 2 records the first fully Christian sermon on the day of Pentecost. The response of the assembled crowd to this messages prompts us to consider our response to the call to turn away from our sin, to confess our need of a saviour, and to embrace Jesus as both Lord and Messiah.
"Jesus lived with a profound sense of purpose. He spoke and acted as the One who was the culmination of the story of Israel, as the One through whom God’s purposes would be achieved."
Jesus lived with a profound sense of purpose. He spoke and acted as the One who was the culmination of the story of Israel, as the One through whom God’s purposes would be achieved. In Jesus, God was finally acting to restore the world— now distorted by sin, death and decay— just as he promised Abraham long ago. But this restoration would come at a cost. Jesus knew restoration could only happen if he faced death himself, overcoming its sting, and demonstrating his victory by coming back to life. In all the Gospels, the cross stands at the centre of history – the pivot point around which everything revolves.
The remainder of the New Testament explores the significance of the cross through many lenses, in differing contexts, explaining in various ways all that Jesus achieved for the world and for us. As you read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection this month, consider what the authors are trying to tell us about the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. What does it mean? What is its impact? According to the Bible, how is your life different now because of what Jesus did on the cross then?
Jesus goes to his death
The Last Supper stands in all the gospels as an event fore-telling the significance of all that follows in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. The Passover – the Jewish feast celebrating the exodus – was infused with so many ‘types’ and symbols which found their fulfilment and completion in Jesus’ death and resurrection. His death will be a new exodus in the way that a new covenant comes about. As you read, consider all the ways in which the Old Testament foreshadows these events.
List them down so that you can continue to meditate on them. Remembering that these are actual historical events, place your yourself in the shoes of the disciples who watched Jesus go to his death.
What would they have felt and thought? Imagine their cascading “ah ha!” moments as they reflected back on all that took place so quickly in those hours. What do we learn in this passage about their understanding of Jesus’ death?
The apostle John brings fresh insights to the events of Jesus’ crucifixion. Undoubtedly, he is describing the same event on Golgotha Hill just outside the city walls, but his personal ‘eyewitness’ account supplies additional details and perspectives to that of Matthew, Mark and Luke– which share common sources.
Exercise: Compare each of the four gospel accounts, noting their differences and similarities. Notice how each brings fresh nuance, highlighting particular themes or perspectives. What conclusions do you draw from each?
Resurrection Sunday was the first day of the week, most appropriate for making all things new. Jesus’ defeat of death is more than the defeat of Satan and sin. Jesus is also crowned king of God’s kingdom, the ruler of Life which will ultimately restore all creation.
Early on that Sunday morning, beyond all hope, the tomb was empty. John paints the scene beautifully: the confusion of Mary; turning to a dawning acceptance among all the disciples. All the details of this passage tell a particular part of the story. None are accidental or incidental, as each is added to the next building a cumulative case that cannot be thwarted.
What is John trying to tell us about Jesus’ resurrected body? What possible misunderstandings is John trying to guard against?
Two of Jesus disciples are walking away from Jerusalem in despair. With Jesus execution, all their hopes have been dashed. A stranger appears beside them, walking with them. By retelling the whole story of Israel, he explains why Jesus had to die, and why he must then enter into glory.
Over a shared meal that evening, before suddenly departing, the stranger drops the hint that he is actually the resurrected Jesus! What is the significance of this Emmaus Road conversation for understanding both the resurrection, and the biblical story?
Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae speaks about Jesus’ death and resurrection, combining the personal and the cosmic. The significance of the historical events are now applied to the lives of people far from Jerusalem, who likely never met Jesus in the flesh. The impact of the death and resurrection of Jesus is the same: death is swallowed up by his life. These conclusions also issue a challenge to us today to live in the new reality created by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Consider: According to Paul, what did God achieve through the cross?
The writer of Hebrews sees that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God is fulfilling his promises to Abraham. Further, we see that, in Jesus, God has entered into our struggles, and shares with us in them. What encouragement do you take away from this portrayal of Jesus? When might this perspective become especially relevant for a believer?
This passage includes what is probably an early Christian hymn of worship. It establishes the implications of Jesus being both fully Divine and fully Human in his incarnation, death and resurrection. It wrestles with one of the most powerful questions of the Christian faith: given the dual nature of Jesus (God and human), what does the cross tell us about the life of a Christian? Consider this question deeply. What should this mean for your life today?
Bible in a year
October Prayer: Ancient Prayers
The Ancients knew a thing or two about prayer. Their prayers, although embedded in places and times far from our own, have much to teach us. This month, take some time to explore the prayers of Saints from long ago and far away. A few samples follow to start you off. Enjoy your own discoveries and see how your own prayers are enriched by the prayers of the Ancients.
The Prayers of the Early Church have been documented by many. A useful online resource can be found here. Clement of Rome was a second generation Christian, probably converted under the ministry of the apostle Peter. Here is one of his many prayers that have been preserved.
Clement’s Prayer For Forgiveness Thou didst make to appear the enduring fabric of the world by the works of Thy hand; Thou, Lord, didst create the earth on which we dwell,—Thou, who art faithful in all generations, just in judgments, wonderful in strength and majesty, with wisdom creating and with understanding fixing the things which were made, who art good among them that are being saved and faithful among them whose trust is in Thee;
O merciful and Compassionate One, forgive us our iniquities and offences and transgressions and trespasses. Reckon not every sin of Thy servants and handmaids, but Thou wilt purify us with the purification of Thy truth; and direct our steps that we may walk in holiness of heart and do what is good and well-pleasing in Thy sight and in the sight of our rulers.
Yea, Lord, make Thy face to shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by Thy mighty hand and delivered from every sin by Thine uplifted arm, and deliver us from those who hate us wrongfully. Give concord and peace to us and all who dwell upon the earth, even as Thou gavest to our fathers, when they called upon Thee in faith and truth, submissive as we are to Thine almighty and all-excellent Name.
Ignatius’ Prayer for the Privilege of Martyrdom Ignatius was a second century Christian who knew well the dangers of being a Christian in times of great persecution.
Ask for me this only in your prayers, that strength may be given me of the Lord that I may not be called but proved to be a Christian. Then shall I be seen to be faithful when the world no longer sees me. For nothing that appeareth is eternal. For the things which are perceived are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. I write to the Churches and charge you all that willingly I die for Christ, if you prevent me not.
I ask of you that your love for me be not untimely; allow me to be devoured of wild beasts, through whom I may attain unto God. I am the grain of God ground between the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found to be the pure bread of Christ. Then indeed shall I be the true disciple of Christ when the world shall no longer behold my body. Beseech Christ on my behalf that through these means I may be found a perfect sacrifice. Not as Peter and Paul do I command you. They were apostles, I am the least of them; they were free, but I am a slave even unto this day, but, if you wish, I shall be the freedman of Jesus Christ, and in Him I shall rise again and be free.
The Hourly Prayers of St John Chrysostom St John Chrysostom (349-407) was a great preacher and bishop in Constantinople. Many of his sermons and prayers have been preserved to this day. He framed a series of very short ‘arrow’ prayers to be prayed each hour of the day, divided into two groups of 12.
O Lord, of Thy heavenly bounties, deprive me not. O Lord, deliver me from the eternal torments. O Lord, forgive me if I have sinned in my mind or my thought, whether in word or in deed. O Lord, free me from all ignorance and forgetfulness, from despondency and stony insensibility. O Lord, deliver me from every temptation. O Lord, enlighten my heart which evil desires have darkened. O Lord, as a man have I sinned, have Thou mercy on me, as the God full of compassion, seeing the feebleness of my soul. O Lord, send down Thy grace to help me, that I may glorify Thy name. O Lord Jesus Christ, write me down in the book of life and grant unto me a good end. O Lord my God, even if I had not done anything good before Thee, do Thou help me, in Thy grace, to make a good beginning. O Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace. O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, Thy sinful servant, full of shame and impurity, in Thy kingdom. Amen. O Lord, receive me in penitence. O Lord, forsake me not. O Lord, lead me not into misfortune. O Lord, quicken in me a good thought. O Lord, give me tears and remembrance of death, and contrition. O Lord, make me solicitous of confessing my sins. O Lord, give me humility, chastity, and obedience. O Lord, give me patience, magnanimity, and meekness. O Lord, implant in my the root of all good--Thy fear in my heart. O Lord, vouchsafe that I may love thee from all my soul and mind and in everything do Thy will. O Lord, shelter me from certain men, from demons and passions, and from any other unbecoming thing. O Lord, Thou knowest that Thou dost as Thou wilt, let then Thy will be done in me, a sinner, for blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen. O Lord my God, even if I had not done anything good before Thee, do Thou help me, in Thy grace, to make a good beginning. O Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace. O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, Thy sinful servant, full of shame and impurity, in Thy kingdom. Amen.
The Holy Spirit Prayer of Saint Augustine Saint Augustine (354-430) created this poetic prayer to the Holy Spirit: Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, That my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, That my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, That I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, To defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, That I always may be holy.
The Valley of Vision Puritanism was a Protestant movement that emerged in 16th-century England with the goal of transforming it into a godly society by reforming or purifying the Church of England of all remaining Roman Catholic teachings and practices. The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan Prayers and Meditations. The following prayer is just an example taken from this rich source of spirituality.
Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley.
A Prayer of Richard Baxter Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was one of the well known Puritans. Here is one of his prayers:
Eternal, Almighty, and most gracious God: heaven is your throne, and earth is your footstool; holy and reverend is your name; you are praised by the angels of heaven, and in the gathering of your church on earth. Despite our unworthiness, you have invited us through our mediator, Jesus Christ, to present ourselves and our prayers to you. Receive us graciously. Help us by your Spirit. Let us stand in awe of you. Put your law into our hearts, and write it on our minds.
Let your word come to us in power, and help us receive it in love, with attentive, reverent, and teachable minds. Through your word, allow us to taste the flavor of eternal life. Make us fervent in prayer and joyful in praise. Help us serve you this day without distraction, that we may find that a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere, and that it is good for us to come near to God; through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
And my personal favourite… Sonnet, John Donne (1572-1631)
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. I, like an usurp'd town to another due, Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end; Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain, But am betroth'd unto your enemy; Divorce me, untie or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
This small sample of prayers ‘from the Ancients’ is intended to spark our interest and whet our appetites to learn to pray from the examples of those who have gone before us. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to do some more research
Want to grow further in prayer?
Eugene Peterson, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”.
Since Eugene Peterson wrote this spiritual formation classic more than forty years ago, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been inspired by its call to deeper discipleship. Our society is still obsessed with quick fixes. But Peterson's time-tested prescription for discipleship remains the same-a long obedience in the same direction.