Determination, Week 1
Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin
Acts 3 and 4
Keep going even when it gets hard.
For several years, Jesus’ closest friends had been on a wild ride. They traveled with Jesus, marveling at the huge crowds and amazing miracles. They witnessed His arrest and crucifixion, and were overjoyed when He rose from the dead. At last, Jesus gave them an amazing mission—to share God’s story with people across the entire world!
But then Jesus was taken back up into heaven, and His friends were left in Jerusalem to wait.
Peter probably wasn’t too happy about that. He might have paced the room, venting to John: “I don’t like waiting. Just give me something to do. Let’s get started on the ‘tell the whole world’ thing.”
“Well,” John might have pointed out. “Jesus told us to wait here in Jerusalem. For His Holy Spirit.”
“What does that even mean?” Peter wondered.
A short time later, the sound of a rising wind answered his question. When God’s Holy Spirit arrived, it appeared as tongues of fire above the heads of the believers. The Spirit gave Peter and John and the other disciples the ability to speak in different languages so people from all over the world could understand God’s story!
Jews from many countries had traveled to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost, and many gathered when they heard the uproar. Peter immediately stood up before them and proclaimed the story of Jesus to everyone.
“All of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ,” he declared. “Then your sins will be forgiven.”
That day, 3,000 people believed and were baptized! The new believers shared their lives, eating and praising God together. Each day, they met in the courtyard of the temple.
One afternoon, Peter and John arrived at the temple gate to discover a man who couldn’t walk. “Please, sir,” he begged, holding out his hands. “Could you spare a few coins?”
Peter shook his head. “I don’t have any silver or gold. But I’ll give you what I do have. In the
name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.”
Just like that, the man leapt to his feet and took the first steps of his life! He ran and danced, praising God.
A crowd gathered to stare in amazement at the scene. Peter explained to them what was going on. “This man whom you see and know was made strong because of faith in Jesus’ name. Faith in Jesus has healed him completely.”
Peter then told everyone how God had fulfilled all His promises in Jesus.
While many were excited to hear the news, the religious leaders circled up, muttering to each other. “They’re saying because of Jesus, people can rise from the dead!” they grumbled. “That’s not what we’ve been taught! It’s baloney.”
These leaders were so upset, they surrounded Peter and John and then had them arrested and thrown in jail!
“Hey!” Peter called out as the heavy gates clanged shut. “We didn’t do anything wrong!”
Peter and John were stuck in a damp, chilly prison cell all night. “What happened?” Peter wondered. “We’re only doing what Jesus told us to. Did you see how many people have started believing in Him?”
“C’mon, Peter. Jesus never said this would be easy,” John pointed out.
“I’m not asking for easy,” Peter frowned. “Just . . . fair!”
“I think they just want to scare us,” John noted. “Keep us quiet.”
“Yeah, well, that ain’t happening!” Peter announced.
The next morning, a group of religious leaders met together. Annas, the high priest, joined them, along with other members of his family. They ordered that Peter and John be brought before them.
“By what power did you do this?” demanded Annas. “And through whose name?”
Peter and John exchanged glances, and Peter took a deep breath. He knew his answer wouldn’t be popular, but he was ready to deal with the consequences. “Rulers and elders!” Peter began. “Are you asking us to explain our actions today? Do you want to know why we were kind to a man who couldn’t walk? Are you asking how he was healed? Then listen to
this, you and all the people of Israel! You nailed Jesus Christ of Nazareth to the cross. But God raised him from the dead. It is through Jesus’ name that this man stands healed in front of you. Scripture says that Jesus is‘ the stone you builders did not accept. But it has become the most important stone of all.’ You can’t be saved by believing in anyone else.”
Peter’s words created commotion among the religious leaders. “Leave us!” commanded Annas.
As soon as Peter and John were led away, Annas and the other leaders started to chatter like a scurry of squirrels.
“Preposterous!” Annas cried. “These men have had no training. And yet, they pretend to interpret the Scriptures better than we do!”
“But they performed a miracle,” pointed out another leader. “Everyone saw it. We can’t say it didn’t happen.”
Annas glared at the rest of the leaders. “This stops here. No more. These men must never speak to anyone in the name of Jesus again!”
Once again, Peter and John were brought to stand before the religious leaders.
“We have decided,” Annas announced. “You must never again speak or teach in Jesus’ name.”
Peter and John weren’t intimidated. “Which is right from God’s point of view?” they asked. “Should we listen to you? Or should we listen to God? You be the judges! There’s nothing else we can do. We have to speak about the things we’ve seen and heard.”
The religious leaders couldn’t figure out how to punish Peter and John, so at last, they let them go. Peter and John never stopped teaching in Jesus’ name. And God gave them the power to continue the amazing work He’d given them, no matter what difficulties they faced.
Share with each other at least two new things that you’ve tried or started recently.
Maybe it was reading a new book, cooking something different, learning a sport, or even a putting together a complicated toy set. Did you finish what you started? If you did, was it easy? And if you didn’t, what stopped you? The truth is, it’s way easier to start something new than it is to finish it, especially when it turns out to be harder than you expected. And that doesn’t just go for math homework or learning a musical instrument. It’s also true of things like building a friendship or choosing to forgive when someone has hurt you. Each of you share something that you’ve started that you’d like to finish—or at least keep going with—this week. Then pray for each other, that God will give you the determination to keep going, even when it gets hard.
Determination, Week 2
Peter and Cornelius
Keep going even when the job is bigger than you think.
Though the new church grew quickly, the believers faced many difficulties. The Jewish religious leaders felt threatened by this new teaching, so they arrested and even put to death people who followed Jesus. Many believers scattered, fleeing Jerusalem to live in other towns and cities. But even in their new homes, they shared the story of Jesus.
Peter traveled to visit some of these believers, encouraging them and performing amazing miracles in the name of Jesus. In the seaside town of Joppa, he stayed for some time at the home of a man named Simon.
About thirty miles away in the town of Caesarea lived a Roman commander named Cornelius. He was in charge of about one hundred soldiers in the Italian Regiment. Though Cornelius had not been born a Jew, he and all his family believed in God. They gave praise to God and help to those in need.
One afternoon, Cornelius was talking with God. As he prayed, an angel of God appeared before him in a vision.
Cornelius stared in amazement. “What is it, Lord?”
“Your prayers and gifts to poor people are like an offering to God,” replied the angel. “So he has remembered you. Now send men to Joppa. Have them bring back a man named Simon [Peter]. . . . [He is staying] by the sea.”
As soon as the angel left, Cornelius called for two servants and one of his soldiers who also believed in God. He told them the whole story and asked them to travel to Joppa. The three men left immediately, and neared Joppa around noon the following day.
At the same time, Peter was waiting on his lunch while he talked with God up on the rooftop. As he prayed, he, too, saw a vision. It seemed as though heaven opened up, and a large sheet was let down from heaven. It was filled with all kinds of animals and birds.
“Get up, Peter,” commanded a voice from heaven. “Kill and eat.”
Peter nearly choked in shock. These particular animals were all called “unclean” by God’s law. No Jew would ever eat one of them.
“No, Lord! I will not!” Peter announced. “I have never eaten anything that is not pure and ‘clean.’”
“Do not say anything is not pure that God has made ‘clean,’” the voice told him.
Twice more, the sheet filled with unclean animals was lowered, and then taken back up to heaven.
Peter was left blinking, trying to understand what his unusual vision meant. “Okay, so that happened . . .” he murmured. “I mean, did I see a frog on that sheet?”
At the same time, the three men from Cornelius arrived at the gate of the home below. “Is Simon Peter staying here?” they asked.
Up on the roof, God’s Holy Spirit spoke to Peter. “Three men are looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Don’t let anything keep you from going with them. I have sent them.”
Immediately, Peter went downstairs to greet the men. “Um, hey guys. I’m the one you’re looking for. Why are you here?”
The men explained who Cornelius was and why he had sent them. Peter welcomed them inside, and the next morning, all four men set out together for Caesarea. Even some of the believers from Joppa joined them.
The following day, the whole group arrived in Caesarea at the home of Cornelius. To show respect, Cornelius fell down at Peter’s feet.
“Stand up,” Peter told him. “I am only a man myself.”
“We are so happy to see you,” Cornelius explained. “I have invited all my family and friends.
Come in, come in!”
Peter hesitated for a moment on the doorstep. According to Jewish law, entering the home of a non-Jew would make him unclean. But he was also aware that God was speaking something new. So he took a deep breath—and stepped inside. There, he found a large group gathered and waiting for him.
“You know that it is against our law for a Jew to enter a Gentile home,” Peter began. “A Jew shouldn’t have any close contact with a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not say anyone is not pure and ‘clean.’ So when you sent for me, I came without asking any questions. May I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius explained his vision and added, “It was good of you to come. Now we are all here. And God is here with us. We are ready to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
Peter was starting to understand the vision God had given him. He spoke to the whole group, sharing what God had revealed. “I now realize how true it is that God treats everyone the same,” Peter told them. “He accepts people from every nation. He accepts anyone who has respect for him and does what is right.” Cornelius and all his friends and family listened, enthralled, as Peter continued, “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel . . . the good news of peace through Jesus
Christ. . . . You know how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. . . . We are witnesses of everything he did. [The Jews] killed him by nailing him to a cross. But on the third day God raised him from the dead. . . . He told us to tell people that he is the one appointed by God to judge the living and the dead. All the prophets tell about him. They say that all who believe in him have their sins forgiven through his name.”
As Peter was speaking, God sent His Holy Spirit to everyone listening. They began praising God and speaking in many languages.
The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were amazed. “Hold it,” the believers said to each other. “These people are not even Jews, and God’s given them His Spirit?!”
Peter grinned. “Surely no one can keep these people from being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
Within a short time, Cornelius and all his friends and family were baptized in the name of Jesus. Peter and his friends stayed several days with Cornelius, sharing more about God’s story.
When Jesus had first instructed the believers to tell the world about Him, they thought He meant only the Jewish people. But now it was clear the job was much bigger: they were called to share the story of Jesus with everyone.
Have you ever had a really awesome idea? You wanted to write a story. Or set up a lemonade stand. Or learn how to play piano.
It seemed pretty simple to start with . . . but then, once you got started, you saw way more things to figure out. You just didn’t know what you were getting into! Peter may have felt like that. Jesus told him and the other believers to share God’s story with everyone. At first they thought that meant, “everyone like them.” But then God revealed that it really meant everyone. At first, Peter pushed back. It seemed like too much! But God gave him the strength and wisdom to follow through. Share with each other a really awesome idea you have—or something that you think God might want you to try. Then pray for each other, asking God to give you creativity and determination to follow through, even though at times your idea may look bigger than you planned.
Determination, Week 3
Armor of God
God gives you what you need to keep going.
Sean had always loved stories and games about knights who fought bad guys and chased dragons. So he was pretty excited about his birthday present from Mom and Dad.
“Fencing lessons?” he exclaimed when he opened up the gift certificate. “With a real sword? That is so cool!”
Sean’s coach introduced himself as soon as Mom dropped Sean off at the fencing academy. “Hey, I’m Kevin!” he said, shaking Sean’s hand. “I gotta go in the back and grab a few more foils, but we’ll get started soon.”
“Foils?” Sean wondered. It sounded like the tin foil his mom used in the kitchen.
But Kevin whipped out a long, thin sword with a blunt button on the tip. “A ‘foil’ is what we call the kind of sword you’ll be starting out with.”
“Wow!” Sean exclaimed. “Can I hold that?”
Kevin handed over the sword, but warned, “Always keep the tip pointing down unless you’re in a bout and you’re both wearing masks!”
As Kevin jogged off to the back, Sean noticed a couple guys about his own age, already wearing jackets and face masks.
The tallest one smirked at him. “Newbie, huh?”
Sean frowned. “I thought everyone was just starting out.”
The tall kid looked smug. “Yeah, well, I’m Jasper. My older brother is like, a regional champion, so I know lots about fencing. Oh, and that’s Will.”
He pointed to the other kid, who pulled up his mask to reveal red hair and narrowed eyes. “You seriously don’t know what a foil is?” Will asked.
“I do now,” Sean protested.
Jasper rolled his eyes, and Sean tried to think of something smart to say. He was about to explain how he’d won a contest by building his own light saber when he actually heard light saber noises behind him.
They all turned to see an awkward kid using his foil as a light saber in a fight against imaginary villains. His jacket was only half-zipped, and his face mask was awry. He did his own sound effects,badly, and used a Darth Vader voice that was even worse. “Luke! I am your father!”
Jasper and Will doubled over laughing.
“What a loser!” said Jasper.
“Gonna stab himself in the foot,” Will added.
Jasper and Will began to imitate the kid, who finally looked up. “Luuuuke!” Jasper mocked. “I’m such a baby I love Jar Jar!”
The awkward kid reddened and fat tears formed in his eyes. He looked helplessly toward Sean.
Sean knew he should speak up and defend the kid. But he also knew if he did that, Jasper and Will would probably start laughing at him, too. So he just dropped his eyes.
Coach Kevin’s voice cut in, “Okay, okay! Foils down.”
Their coach cast a sharp eye at the group as he returned, but went ahead with the lesson.
“I know you’re all itching to use your swords,” he told them. “But your feet are important, too!”
Kevin walked them all through basic footwork. But Sean could hardly focus since Jasper and Will continued to point and laugh at the awkward kid, Ben, every time Kevin’s back was turned.
At last Kevin said, “Okay, that’s it for today. See you all on Thursday!”
During class, Sean’s mom had texted she would be five minutes late. So Sean found himself waiting, alone, after the others left.
Kevin dropped down on the bench beside him. “Hey, Sean. I could tell you were really excited about fencing when you got here. But you seemed distracted during class. Everything okay?”
Sean tried to shrug it off. “Yeah, sure.” But then he found he wanted to tell the truth. “I mean, no,” he confessed. “I messed up today. Big time.”
Kevin didn’t push for Sean to explain. He just waited.
“Jasper and Will, they kept making fun of Ben!” Sean explained. “I should have stood up for him. But I wimped out, because I didn’t want them making fun of me, too!”
“Well, it does take more than a mask to face a situation like that,” agreed Kevin.
“Do we get, like, real armor, too?” Sean asked.
“I’m thinking of a different kind of armor,” Kevin explained.
Kevin pulled out his phone and launched an app. “You ever read the Bible?” he asked.
“Sure,” Sean told him. “I mean, we go to church sometimes . . .”
“This part’s super cool,” Kevin noted, scrolling through his app. “It’s a letter that talks about how our lives are actually a real battle.”
“With knights and bad guys and stuff?” Sean wondered.
“Pretty much,” Kevin said. “Why don’t you read this?”
Sean peered at the long passage and took a deep breath. “‘Finally, let the Lord make you strong,’” he read. “‘Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can remain strong against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world.’” Sean paused. “Whoa.
That’s cool. Kind of like a video game.”
Kevin nodded. “It just means that when you face someone like Jasper, you’ve got to remember he’s not the real enemy. He’s just insecure and a little scared himself.”
Sean wasn’t sure if he believed that about Jasper, but he kept reading anyway. “‘So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. . . . Put the belt of truth around your waist. Put the armor of godliness on your chest. Wear on your feet what will prepare you to tell the good news of peace. Also, pick up the shield of faith. With it you can put out all of the flaming arrows of the evil one. Put on the helmet of salvation. And take the sword of the Holy Spirit. The sword is God’s word.’” Sean finally stopped and took a deep breath. “That is a lot!”
“It’s really pretty simple,” Kevin said. “See, I can teach you how to use a foil and defend yourself in a bout against another fencer. But those are easy battles compared to doing the right thing and standing firm when things get tough in real life.”
“Like Jasper making fun of Ben?” asked Sean.
“Yup,” Kevin agreed. “That’s when you need more than a face mask. And if you ask God, He will help you put on His love and truth like armor. He can help you remember what’s true. And when God’s truth is surrounding your heart and mind like armor, you can do what’s right! God will help you wear His armor if you ask Him!”
“Like real armor?” Sean asked.
“Just like real armor.”
A car horn sounded just outside. Sean jumped up and said, “That’s Mom. Gotta go.”
Kevin stood up, too. “It’s an honor to have you in class, Sean.”
“Can’t wait for next time,” Sean told him. “I’ll be here. With my armor on.”
Sean finished gathering his things and smiled at Kevin as he headed for the door. Next time, he’d be ready to face Jasper and Will and stand up for Ben. Armor and all.
Share with each other something big that you’ve worked on this week—whether it’s finishing a school project or trying to get to know a new kid at school.
Did anything make it hard for you? There are lots of things that can get in our way of finishing well. It might just be that you’re tired. Or you’re scared people will laugh at you. Or the project is really, really hard to understand. Whatever your obstacle, God can give you what you need to keep going! The truth of God’s Word says that He is always with you and that He is your strength. He loves you, and He will be by your side, fighting for you, no matter what. With that armor, you can keep going, even when it’s difficult. Pray for each other, that you will remember God’s armor and ask for His help to keep going in tough situations this week.
Determination, Week 4
John's Vision of Heaven
Revelation 21:1-8, 22-27; 22:1-5
Keep going because God knows the end of the story.
John squinted against the blinding glare of the afternoon sun. Just a short distance away, frothy waves crashed against craggy rocks and foamed over white sands. The island of Patmos was stunning, surrounded by brilliant blue sea and sky,
making it the most beautiful prison on earth.
Though he wasn’t chained up, John was in jail. The Roman Emperor, unable to make John stop preaching about Jesus, had exiled him to this prison colony. There was no way off the island. John was now very old, living out the end of his life with a handful of criminals.
John settled into a shallow cave on the shore to take shelter from the heat. He closed his eyes.
“I’ve seen so much . . .” he murmured.
John had lived longer than any of Jesus’ other disciples. He had watched the early church grow while the story of Jesus spread, fast and bright as wildfire. But he had also seen terrible things happen to those who believed in Jesus. Many of them had even died for talking about Jesus.
Still, more people than ever were following Jesus. God’s story was traveling from one end of the world to the other, just as Jesus said.
In the cool of the shallow cave, John began to relax. His head was nodding . . . when a voice like a trumpet sounded behind him!
“Write on a scroll what you see,” the voice cried out.
John blinked. Was he awake? Or dreaming? Turning, John saw Jesus Himself, eyes blazing with intensity.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus told him. “I was dead. But look! I am alive forever and ever . . .
Write about what is happening now and what will happen later.”
John’s mind worked fast, trying to grasp what was happening. It appeared God was showing him a picture of things that would take place in the future. He wanted John to write them down and share them with others!
“Yes, Lord!” he said quickly. “Just have to find a scroll and take a few notes . . .”
John watched, amazed, as God showed him many things that were coming. Some were wonderful. Some were terrible. And some were mysterious. After the vision ended, John began a letter to several of the new churches.
“I, John, am writing this letter,” he began. “I am a friend who suffers like you. As members of Jesus’ royal family, we can put up with anything that happens to us.”
John explained every strange and amazing thing he had seen. Some of it made him tremble. Some of it didn’t even make sense to him yet. But he couldn’t wait to write what he had witnessed during the last part of the vision.
“The ending!” he recalled. “That’s the best thing!”
God had shown John how the story will turn out for everyone who believes in Jesus! Carefully, John recalled the incredible things he had seen. “Words can’t describe how amazing it will be. I’ll try, but—no one’s going to really get it until they see if for themselves.”
“I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ . . .” he wrote.
John remembered the words that Jesus had spoken when He was on earth, right before His death and return to life: “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. . . . I am going there… [to] prepare a place for you…If I go and do that, I will come back. And I will take you to be with me. Then you will also be where I am.”
John nodded, putting the pieces together. “What I saw . . . it’s the special place Jesus is making for each one of us. A place where we will never be apart from God!”
John focused on the next scene from his vision. He saw a great white throne. “I heard a loud voice from the throne,” he wrote. “It said, ‘Look! God now makes his home with people. . . . “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death.” And there will be no more sadness. There will be no more crying or pain.’”
John paused as he stared at his words on the page. “All of these terrible things we’ve seen . . . people sick and hurt. Being mocked and put in jail. All of it will be made right!”
Something else stood out to John. “Light. There was so much light!” He added on the page,
“The city does not need the sun or moon to shine on it. God’s glory is its light, and the Lamb [Jesus] is its lamp. . . . Its gates will never be shut, because there will be no night there.’”
The place John had seen wasn’t just filled with light; it was beautiful, too. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,” wrote John. “It was as clear as crystal. It flowed from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit. Its fruit was ripe every month. The leaves of the tree bring healing to the nations.”
Once again, John lifted his pen from the page. It seemed impossible to capture the real glory of what he had seen in tiny black marks on a scroll. He tried one more time: “God’s servants will serve him. They will see his face.”
John felt himself grinning. He could say one thing for sure: No one would be bored! At last, he and every other person who believes in God would be able to live out what they were created to do, fully and completely, with no sin or frustration or weariness to get in the way.
It was time for John to wrap up his letter: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”
John didn’t know exactly when the things God had shown him would take place. And neither do we. But we can be certain of this: We can keep going no matter what happens, because God will make all things right in the end!
Sometimes things in your life may feel impossible—
You have to change schools and leave your friends in the middle of the year. The teacher says you cheated on a test and won’t believe you when you explain that you didn’t. Someone in your family gets really sick. And while God will always help you through those difficult situations, it doesn’t mean everything will be fair or easy. Is there something in your life right now that feels really tough like that? Take a minute or two to share about it. Here’s the awesome thing: While that situation may not be perfectly fixed right now, you can know for sure that God makes everything right in the end for the people who believe in Him. Like John saw, God will take away all sickness and sadness and hurt! So no matter what happens, you can keep going, knowing that the end will be good. Pray for each other—ask God to give you the determination to keep going, even in the midst of your toughest circumstances.