INTRODUCTION TO NOVEMBER LESSONS: Shrunken spirits and miserly hearts have no place in God’s global mission. His plans are always larger than ours (Genesis 1:28; 11:4, 9; 12:3; Isaiah 49:6; Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 9:9-10). Clearly God’s mission for the church has always been worldwide. The International Conference on Missions realizes this; the theme for their gathering Nov. 16-18 in Oklahoma City is “Hope for the Nations.” In Part 2 of this study from Acts, students will learn of this global mission by studying one family (Cornelius’s household), a first journey (by Paul and Barnabas), and two cities (Ephesus and Rome).
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Unit: Acts (Part 2)
Theme: The Church Goes Global
Lesson Text: Acts 10:17-24, 34-48
Supplemental Text: Acts 10:1-16, 25-33; 11:1-18
Aim: Celebrate the inclusiveness of God’s love and grace.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the study by Mark Scott, the Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Doug Redford): LOOKOUT_Nov5_2023.
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By Mark Scott
Acts is the simplest and earliest name of this Bible book. The fuller and later title of the book, Acts of the Apostles, must probably give way to a more accurate name, Acts of the Holy Spirit. The main job of the Holy Spirit in Acts is to lead the church forward in its mission. When we arrive in our reading at Acts 10, we realize it is a big moment. The length of the narrative is one clue to its significance (Acts 10:1—11:18).
Luke’s account of the beginning and growth of the church has led up to this point. Jesus promised that his witnesses would reach to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Peter said God would pour out his Spirit on all people (2:17). The saving name of Jesus is for everyone “under heaven” (4:12). Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 helped the church to see how its message fulfilled its roots in Judaism, yet also unshackled it from them. Philip preached to the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch (8:5, 34, 35). Peter stayed with a “tanner” named Simon while in Joppa (9:43), which prepared him for his heavenly vision and the Gentiles being added to the church.
The Spirit Said
The Holy Spirit is a speaking Spirit. Like the Father and the Son, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (to co-opt the title of a book by Francis Schaeffer). Cornelius prayed regularly and God answered with an angel who instructed Cornelius to summon Peter to his Caesarean residence (Acts 10:1-8). God, in turn, prepared Peter via a vision as the apostle prayed on a rooftop in Joppa (10:9-16).
While Peter wondered about the meaning of the vision, the Spirit told Peter that three men had come for him, men whom the Spirit had sent.
The Spirit then told Peter to go downstairs and not hesitate (the Greek word used means discriminate or second guess) going with them because the whole event was being orchestrated by God.
Peter identified himself to Cornelius’s men. They vouched for Cornelius’s character and told Peter the events recorded earlier in the chapter. In a strange turn of events, Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. That might not seem surprising in light of Ancient Near Eastern hospitality, but the ethnic ramifications are stunning.
The Spirit Anointed
Acts 10:23b-24, 34-43
Peter could not have been more fully prepared for the scene that awaited him. He arrived at Cornelius’s house and found everything in perfect order for the preaching of the gospel (Acts 10:25-33). Peter staying at the home of a tanner was wild, but a Roman soldier bowing to a Jewish fisherman was wilder still! Peter acknowledged he was out of his comfort zone, but God had dramatically changed his perspective.
That new perspective is seen in Peter’s opening words in verse 34—God does not show favoritism (literally, does not regard the face). God accepts people from every nation, and so should the church. The biblical basis for such a radical first-century claim was rooted in Jesus’ own ministry. The rest of Peter’s sermon was about the Holy Spirit anointing Jesus to preach this all-embracing gospel. The message (word) God sent to the people of Israel was the good news of peace (see also Ephesians 2:11-22). That peace established through the complete work of Christ on the cross broke down barriers between Jew and Gentile.
Peter retraced the ABCs of Jesus’ ministry. First there was the preaching of John the Baptist. Then came Jesus’ baptism and empowerment (anointing) by the Holy Spirit to conduct his ministry. Jesus healed people and went about doing good. He died on Calvary’s cross and was raised from the dead. Many people witnessed these things since they were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26). Peter claimed post-resurrection encounters with Jesus. Apostolic preaching would cause people to decide for or against Jesus. They could choose to be judged or forgiven by him.
The Spirit Came
It seems that Peter never got to conclude his message. Once the basic kerygma (Christian message or gospel) was shared, the Holy Spirit came. It was like reliving Pentecost. The circumcised believers (Jewish Christians) who had come with Peter were astonished that the Holy Spirit had accepted the Gentiles into the church before the church had accepted them.
One evidence of the Holy Spirit’s descent was speaking in tongues (or known human languages, so that all the Gentiles could understand the gospel). Peter—perhaps the most “kosher” of all disciples—recommended water baptism since these events were identical to what had occurred in Acts 2. The events in Acts 10 marked a significant milestone in the progress of the gospel message.