(Display a coffee filter as a representation of filters in general.)
1. What are some different types of filters we use daily and think little about it? (Vacuum cleaner, oil, furnace, aquarium, and water filters.)
2. What is the purpose of a filter? (It keeps out some substances and allows others to pass through.)
Sometimes humans have filters in place that affect the degree to which we are open to others coming to Christ.
In groups of two or three brainstorm social and religious filters that keep individuals and churches from being open to everyone. Write your ideas on the filter provided.
(We will read our responses later in our session.)
3. Are there any long-held prodigious beliefs or attitudes that you have changed your mind about?
Change can occur gradually or through a dramatic encounter. Today’s session deals with a dramatic experience for Peter when he realized that salvation is offered to everyone. It seems that Peter—like me—is a slow learner. His experience at Antioch didn’t seem to cause him to apply the lesson to everyone.
As believers, we can be advocates within our church body for new believers from different backgrounds.
Our focal passage begins with verse 9 but the first 8 verses are important for us to read also.
The designation God-fearers is used in Acts to describe Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism but who never made the commitment to become proselytes or full converts. For Gentile males to become Jewish proselytes would have required circumcision. God-fearers respected Jewish customs and beliefs, including observing special days and following dietary laws.
The Vision! Read Acts 10:9-15
Peter was removed from distractions, in the act of prayer, and hungry. The Lord carefully guided the process so that through prayer Peter could “see” the greater scope of God’s grace.
1. What beliefs were in conflict with Peter’s vision? (Peter’s vision directed him to eat animals forbidden by Mosaic Law. This would have been in conflict with Peter’s background of Jewish beliefs.)
2. Why is it hard to make changes to longstanding customs or beliefs? (We are programmed by our culture and environment to live within certain boundaries. Stepping outside the boundaries can create internal conflict and concern about how others will respond.)
3. What did Peter’s negative response to the voice reveal about his understanding of God’s plan to offer salvation to all people in Christ?
4. How do we know this vision was from the Lord—not from heat or hunger or another explainable circumstance? (Peter heard and recognized the voice from the Lord.)
Peter saw a vision to kill and eat animals not once, but three times. The number three was significant for Peter. He had previously denied Jesus three times, and Jesus had asked Peter about his love three times.
5. In what way might the early church have been impacted if God had allowed Peter to dismiss the heavenly vision?
Jesus demonstrated to Peter through the vision and the repetition of language that His work on the cross applies to anyone who repents and believes in Him.
(Summarize verses 16-42.)
The Declaration! Read Acts 10:43
Now many of the passages from the Old Testament became clear to Peter, salvation through Jesus was for everyone.
1. Why was Peter the one chosen for this experience? (Peter was the leader of the disciples and now the church. He could help lead others to overcome long-held prodigious beliefs.)
2. How can you see God’s plan unfolding through the events in Peter’s and Cornelius’ lives?
3. How does this encourage you on your own journey? (As we look back, we can see how God used unlikely events to further His purpose in our lives.)
4. How does Peter’s message continue to speak directly to people today? (The gospel message is meant for every person of every background, life experience, and heritage. We cannot earn salvation; it is a free gift of God through faith in Jesus.)
The Sign! Read Acts 10:44-46a
Some people call this the “Gentile Pentecost”.
1. What sign did the Holy Spirit provide? (Gentile believers received the Holy Spirit, astonishing the Jewish believers with Peter. Gentiles were considered “pagans,” as they were not part of God’s family at birth. What the Jews didn’t realize was that they weren’t either until they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.)
God specifically designed this event to cause Peter and the others familiar with the original Pentecost to see the similarities. God demonstrated in this event that He was accepting Gentiles in the same way He accepted Jewish believers. They were not second-class Christians!
These were not events that would be commonly experienced in the future when others accepted Christ. Every believer receives the Holy Spirit, but the manifestation of speaking in other languages was not the normal sign. These were sign miracles intended to establish principles for unity among Jewish and Gentile believers in the church.
2. Did Peter get to finish his sermon? (No! As soon as the people believed the Holy Spirit came upon them.)
3. What does this indicate about how God works in the hearts of men and women? (God works without man’s manipulation. He works through obedient vessels!)
The Spirit’s invasion occurred while Peter was speaking. Peter was not able to finish his sermon, but the Spirit was able to baptize all those who received the message of salvation.
The Acceptance! Read Acts 10:46b-48
1. How did Peter set an example of inclusiveness for the Gentile believers? (Peter reminded the other believers that the Gentiles had received the same Holy Spirit they had received. He paved the way for them to be accepted through baptism, a significant life marker for all believers.)
2. Why is inclusiveness so important? (Salvation is inclusive. It is offered to all regardless of race or heritage or pedigree.)
3. What can we learn from Peter’s example? (Peter took the initiative to speak to the Jewish believers on behalf of the Gentiles.)
4. How can we encourage our congregation to be open to people who are different from the majority of our members? (Welcome new believers into the fellowship of the church. We can take the first step in accepting them and helping them feel like part of the local body of believers.)
Summarize and Challenge!
God used Peter and Cornelius to bring about the broader vision and purpose of the plan for His church. Peter needed Cornelius to see how salvation is truly offered to all. Cornelius needed Peter’s obedience and preaching to respond in faith.
1. What are some of the words you wrote on your filter at the beginning of our study?
2. How does our church represent diversity in race, heritage, social structure and the makeup of our community?
3. Are there areas we need to improve on?
4. Do we knowingly or unknowingly place barriers to prevent certain groups of people in our community from coming to our church?
Pray for the fellowship of believers around the world who are studying this passage today. Ask God to speak to our hearts as well as theirs.