WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
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BARRIERS COME DOWN
(Christianity breaks through all barriers)
Acts chapter 10 relates how GOD used Peter to open up the doors of the Christian Church to the Gentiles (Non-Jewish people) who desired to worship and follow HIM. The Gentiles had never been accepted by the Jews in any way, form, or fashion, and, were in fact, thought to be altogether “unclean” by Israel as a whole.
Acts chapters 10 and 11 mark a dramatic turning point in Church history as we see for the first time, Gentiles hearing and responding positively, and corporately, to the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST. Here in chapter 10, Luke begins by introducing us to a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a devout worshiper of the GOD of Israel, and a Centurion over an Italian Regiment (100 men). Cornelius was a Gentile who feared GOD, prayed regularly, and gave generously to those whom he knew were in need. In fact, Cornelius was a Gentile who already had a personal, experiential relationship with GOD.
In verses 3-6, Luke tells us that Cornelius experienced a vision where an angel from GOD delivers a message to him that, in essence, foretold of the upcoming overall acceptance of the Gentiles into the Church of CHRIST, starting with him and his family there in Caesarea.
Here we see the stage being set for racial barriers to come down, and, for the gap to be bridged, first, between man and himself, and then ultimately, between man and GOD. In fact, we see quite literally here, our LORD and SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST, coming into focus as the personification of that bridge over the troubled waters that had long been stirred by human reasoning and prejudices.
The angel instructed Cornelius to send some men down to a city called Joppa, an ancient seaport located on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine, where they would find the Apostle Peter, one of the twelve disciples of JESUS, who was currently residing there. They were to petition Peter to come to Caesarea and share the message of the Good News about CHRIST JESUS, that GOD had given him.
Meanwhile, in this not too distant city of Joppa, GOD had already placed Peter in a real-life situation where he was closely associating with a man named Simon, who would be deemed by the Jews to be “unclean” just by way of his occupation as a tanner of animal skins (a leatherworker). According to Jewish law, and based on Numbers 19, a person who touches the carcass of the dead shall be deemed unclean for a designated period of time, even beyond their cleansing process. And so Simon, whose job was to work with dead animals, continually existed in an unclean state by Jewish reasoning.
Here in Acts chapter 10, verses 5-6, Luke tells us that Peter was actually living in the same house with Simon. Most Jews, at that time, would never have accepted hospitality from a person such as Simon because of his occupation. Nevertheless, Simon was still a Christian, and no doubt, by now, Peter had already begun to see that Christianity is intended by GOD to be all-inclusive, and to be a revolution against social and racial prejudices, as well as, against pride, and economic disparities.
The day after Cornelius received his vision GOD visited Peter and provided him with a vision of his own. In Peter’s mid-day vision, GOD presents to him, the depiction of a sheet with all manner of animals in it that were traditionally deemed unclean to eat by Jewish standards. In this vision, a voice from Heaven commands Peter to kill and eat these animals. Peter, however, protests against this command saying that, “I have never in all my life eaten anything forbidden by our Jewish laws” (v.14). Then the voice of GOD tells Peter, “If GOD says something is acceptable, don’t say it isn’t” (v. 15) (NLT).
This same vision was repeated to Peter three times, and then, the collection of animals ascended back into Heaven. Until that moment, Peter had always thought the Gentiles to be unclean to associate with in any way, but now, GOD was preparing him for the coming of, first, the Gentile Cornelius and his family, and then later, those of the entire Gentile existence, who wished to come into the body of CHRIST, and worship and serve HIM only.
When Cornelius’ men arrived at Joppa they met with Peter and informed him of the details of their mission. Peter invited them to lodge for the night and the following day they all made the trip back to Caesarea. When they arrived back at Caesarea, Cornelius had gathered together several family members and was waiting to greet them. Cornelius fell to the floor before Peter, but the apostle demanded that he stand up and not show worship to another man, who, like him, is only human. Cornelius got up and they went inside with the others.
Peter began to speak by first telling the people who gathered how it was against Jewish law to even come inside the house of a Gentile, however, recently GOD had shown him that he should not look at anyone as being “impure”. And so he was ready to listen to what they all had to say, without prejudice, concerning why they had summoned him there. After telling Peter about his vision, Cornelius thanked him for coming and then stood there with great anticipation, waiting to hear the great and wonderful message that the LORD wanted Peter to share with him and his household. Then Peter replied;
“I see very clearly that GOD shows no favoritism. In every nation HE accepts those who fear HIM and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel, that there is peace with GOD through JESUS CHRIST, WHO is LORD of all. You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. And you know that GOD anointed JESUS of Nazareth with the HOLY SPIRIT and with power. Then JESUS went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for GOD was with him” (Vs.34-38)(NLT).
The purpose of JESUS’ vicarious sacrifice on the cross was so that all men could have the opportunity to receive GOD’s offering of Salvation. JESUS died for all mankind in general, and for all Christians in particular. Through HIS sacrifice, all mankind can be restored back into a personal relationship of friendship with GOD.
JESUS is the only bridge that can ever reconnect man with GOD. GOD includes all of us in HIS offer of Salvation, but we must, and can only volunteer to partake in this free, “limited time” offer. No one can ever exclude anyone else from this glorious offer, but rather, it is something that each individual must choose to do, or not do. To put it plainly, GOD does not send anyone to Heaven, or to Hell, but rather, we all, through our life’s choices, in essence, choose our own destination.
In verses 34-35, Peter testifies of his new and enlightened understanding of GOD’s holy plans for the new Christian Church. He went on to preach the Good News to the Gentiles who were present (Vs. 34-43), and as a result, all of them received the HOLY SPIRIT and were baptized. And the Jewish believers who were present marveled at what they had seen, and how the power of the HOLY SPIRIT was acting upon the Gentiles in the same way that HE had acted upon them at Pentecost. And they all abided there with Cornelius for several more days, as Cornelius had requested it (Vs. 44-48).
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website