Sunday School Lesson

August 20

Lesson 12

Called to Preach

Devotional Reading: 1 Timothy 4:6-16

Background Scripture: Acts 9:1-31

Acts 9:10-20

10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,

12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

Key Verse

There was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. —Acts 9:10

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Describe the interactions of Ananias with God and Saul.

2. Explain the fear Ananias expressed when directed to meet with Saul.

3. Evaluate how much of an “Ananias” he or she is when responding to God’s call and formulate a plan to change shortcomings identified.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Physicist Becomes a Preacher

B. Lesson Background: Saul

C. Lesson Background: Damascus

I. Disturbing Vision (Acts 9:10-16)

A. Saul Waits (vv. 10-12)

Vision, Mirage, or Hindsight?

B. Ananias Fears (vv. 13, 14)

C. The Lord Insists (vv. 15, 16)

II. Dramatic Visit (Acts 9:17-20)

A. Ananias Obeys (v. 17)

B. Saul Sees (vv. 18, 19a)

C. Synagogues Hear (vv. 19b, 20)

The Foundation of Preaching

Conclusion

A. Faith and Obedience in Two Men

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. Physicist Becomes a Preacher

John Polkinghorne was one of the greatest British physicists of the twentieth century. He finished a doctorate at Cambridge University at age 25 and was invited to return to Cambridge to teach when he was 27. He participated in formulating the theory of the quark, a particle that is one of the building blocks of matter. He was one of the most brilliant men of his age. Yet after 25 years of this spectacular career in science, Polkinghorne left it all to train for the priesthood in the Church of England. He was ordained and eventually returned to Cambridge University in 1986 to serve as chaplain for Trinity Hall, one of the colleges of the university. The physicist became a preacher.

This week’s lesson is about an even more dramatic career change.

B. Lesson Background: Saul

Saul, a Jew from Tarsus, had been trained as a rabbi by the best teachers in Jerusalem (compare Acts 22:3). His education in the law would have been the ancient equivalent of a doctoral degree today. When the Jewish leadership began to persecute Christians, Saul was their point man. We first see this in his leadership role in this regard in the stoning of Stephen (7:58).

Saul went on to terrorize the church by conducting house-to-house searches for Christians (Acts 8:3; 22:4). His persecuting zeal reached a fever pitch when he took the initiative to ask the high priest for authority to extend the persecution to Damascus, about 150 miles to the north of Jerusalem. His plan was to find Christians in the Jewish population there and bring them back to Jerusalem by force (9:1, 2). His encounter with the risen Christ is the immediate backdrop for today’s lesson (9:3-9). Saul’s ambitions and zeal had not gone unnoticed by the Lord of the church!

C. Lesson Background: Damascus

The site of today’s lesson is the city of Damascus. In the Old Testament, this city is identified with the kingdom of Syria (or Aram), the sometime ally but often foe of ancient Israel (see 1 Kings 15:18). Some claim that Damascus is the oldest continually inhabited site in the world. Indeed, the Bible notes its existence in the time of Abraham (see Genesis 15:2), and archaeological data extends back even further.

Damascus was important in the first century AD as a trading hub for caravan routes. It was a multiethnic city with a substantial Jewish population. These facts highlight the perceived need to extend persecution against Jewish Christians there. Threats to the “purity” of synagogues in Damascus could not be tolerated.

Saul’s mission to this city changed, however, before he arrived there. As today’s lesson opens, Saul is in his third day of blindness as a result of his encounter with Christ.

I. Disturbing Vision

                                                                   (Acts 9:10-16)

 

A. Saul Waits (vv. 10-12)

10. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

We gain a bit more information about this certain disciple ... named Ananias by consulting Acts 22:12, where Paul (formerly the Saul of today’s lesson) describes Ananias as “a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there.” We take care, of course, not to confuse him with two others by the same name in Acts 5:1 and 24:1.

Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, uses the word disciple dozens of times in his two works. In his Gospel, a disciple is a dedicated student of Jesus the teacher. In Acts, a disciple is a committed follower of the risen Lord. In that regard, Ananias may be much like many Christians today: serving the Lord faithfully in relative anonymity. How surprised Ananias must be, then, to experience a vision in which the Lord communicates with him personally!

The word vision implies seeing things not normally seen, but may also consist of hearing things not normally heard. The Lord’s communication with Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 is instructive. Verse 15 calls the episode “the vision,” although Samuel apparently sees nothing (but hears plenty). The same seems to be the case here. Further, both instances involve the Lord’s calling the name of the one being spoken to. But unlike young Samuel, Ananias recognizes what is happening immediately. So he answers behold, I am here, Lord.

What Do You Think?

How can you show appreciation for the behind-the-scenes, nearly anonymous people who have influenced you for Christ?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Sunday school teachers from your early years

Someone who showed you unusual kindness

Someone who provided wise counsel during a difficult period

11. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth.

The divine communication with Ananias bears similarities to and differences from the divine communication with Cornelius in Acts 10:1-6 (next week’s lesson). Both visions name the individual being addressed, name the person to be sought, and provide location of the latter. They are different in that Ananias is directed personally to arise, and go, while Cornelius is directed to “send men” to accomplish the assignment at hand.

When we consider the verse before us in light of Acts 9:9, we realize that Saul’s “time-out” for prayer and fasting (while blind!) is in its third day.

What Do You Think?

What steps can we take to ensure we do not stagnate while in a “time-out” of life?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

During a lengthy recovery from an injury

During an unpaid furlough from work

While on military deployment

While spending much time providing end-of-life care for another

The street which is called Straight is a major east-west thoroughfare in Damascus. It is some 50 feet wide, with impressive gates at each end. It would be equivalent to the Broadway or High Street of some cities today, and a house on such a boulevard would be prestigious.

The Bible records no other facts about the particular Judas mentioned here. It is very unlikely that he is a Christian, but rather is one of the Jews in the city who expects to receive Saul and support his assignment from the high priest (see the Lesson Background). Ananias, as a Christian of Jewish background, likely knows of the house of Judas since the location of the man’s house on an important street is likely an indicator of his prominence and wealth. Judas is not an uncommon name at the time; therefore giving his address clarifies his identity.

12. And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

The Lord reveals to Ananias that a parallel vision has taken place. Saul is proceeding as instructed (Acts 9:6), and we notice irony in the fact that the blind Saul is privileged to have seen in a vision the pending arrival of Ananias for the purpose of restoring Saul’s eyesight.

The irony should not distract us from the crucial issue of Saul’s blindness. This trauma surely prompts deep soul searching on his part! The vital nature of his experience on the road to Damascus is seen in that its facts are recorded in three places in the book of Acts: chapters 9, 22, and 26. The crucial nature of what is taking place surely is not lost on Saul, even at this early point. Saul’s vision of Ananias undoubtedly gives hope. But on another level, it also deepens the mystery for the time being.

How to Say It

Ananias An-uh-nye-us.

Cornelius Cor-neel-yus.

Damascus Duh-mass-kus.

Eusebius You-see-be-us.

Gentiles Jen-tiles.

Judas Joo-dus.

Messiah Meh-sigh-uh.

Nazareth Naz-uh-reth.

Pentecost Pent-ih-kost.

Tarsus Tar-sus.

Before moving on, we should note that the fact that Ananias is designated by name in Saul’s vision is important for at least a couple of reasons. First, the arrival of a man with that very name will be evidence for the divine source of the vision. Second, Saul will be able to inform the owner of the house of the pending arrival of Ananias so that the visitor will not be denied entrance.

Vision, Mirage, or Hindsight?

Constantine the Great was the Roman emperor from AD 306 to 337. During a time of unrest and civil war, he found himself leading an army against a larger force that had occupied Rome. The climactic battle, fought at Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312, was a decisive victory for Constantine, putting him firmly on the path to being uncontested as emperor.

The victory also led the pagan Constantine to be the first emperor of the Roman Empire to embrace Christianity. According to church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, this came about because of a vision Constantine allegedly had from Christ on the day before the battle. The claimed vision was that of the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek, superimposed. This “trophy of a cross of light in the heavens” bore the inscription “Conquer by this.” Constantine did just that, after putting the Chi-Rho on the banners of his army.

Did the vision actually occur, or was it made up later to fit the facts of the battle’s outcome? It’s impossible to say. The Bible clearly establishes that God has used visions and dreams to communicate (Genesis 41:15; Numbers 12:6; etc.). But Scripture is equally clear regarding the problem of false visions (Jeremiah 14:14; 23:16; Ezekiel 13:6-9; etc.; compare Deuteronomy 18:22). Our lesson text—interesting in that God uses a vision of one man (Acts 9:10) to explain the vision of another man—records facts of history. Even so, Hebrews 1:1, 2 sets forth a vital caution regarding claims of visions today: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past ... hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” —J. B. N.

B. Ananias Fears (vv. 13, 14)

13. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.

Like others called, Ananias does not immediately accept his assignment (compare Exodus 4:10-13). He wants nothing to do with Saul, having heard two disturbing things about the man.

First, Saul’s reputation has preceded him, since Ananias knows that this man has already done much evil to the believers back in Jerusalem. The nature of this evil is outlined by the perpetrator himself years later: “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, ... and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme” (Acts 26:10, 11).

Ananias is saying that he knows that Saul has been a persecutor of the church. Implied in this is knowledge of Saul’s complicity in the death of Stephen (see Acts 7:58). This too the repentant perpetrator admits to in due time (see 22:20).

14. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

Second, Ananias also knows that Saul intends to do in Damascus what he has done in Jerusalem. The authority from the chief priests under which Saul operates does not result in an undercover endeavor. Rather, Saul’s intentions seem to be a matter of common knowledge (compare Acts 9:1, 2; 22:5; 26:12). The concern of Ananias is understandable, given this man’s track record.

What Do You Think?

What are some ways to respond to excuses for resisting God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Concerning the “I don’t have time” excuse

Concerning the “I’m not qualified” excuse

Concerning the “It’s too dangerous” excuse

Other

C. The Lord Insists (vv. 15, 16)

15. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.

The Lord does not allow fear to alter the assignment. Instead, Ananias is privileged to be made aware of the broad contours of the plan. And as history reveals, Saul (as Paul) does indeed end up presenting Christ to the Gentiles (example: Acts 18:6-11), and kings (example: 26:1-29), and the children of Israel (example: 17:1-3). The zeal with which Saul serves the high priest (see Philippians 3:6) is being redirected for the Lord’s service.

Surely this prophetic word is an eye-opener for Ananias. Preaching Christ to the Israelites is understandable according to Jesus’ own model (Matthew 15:24; etc.), but by Saul of all people! Further, there is apparently no expectation of extending the gospel to Gentiles at this point in time (compare Acts 11:18, 19). The idea of witnessing to political rulers seems far-fetched if Daniel 2 is not called to mind.

16. For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

The man who has caused more suffering among Christians than any other will join their ranks as one who endures persecution (compare 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). No more letters from high priests, but a commission from the Lord of the church (also Acts 22:10; 26:15-18). No more well-funded expeditions to arrest believers, but shoestring-budgeted missions to cities to make believers (see 1 Corinthians 9:7-12). No more threats of murder for Jews who have become Christian, but plots against his own life (see Acts 9:23-25; 23:12-22).

What Do You Think?

In what ways have you seen Christians put aside fears and follow the will of God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In dealing with a family issue

In dealing with an abusive coworker

In dealing with a financial crisis

In dealing with a crisis in the church

II. Dramatic Visit

                                                                       (Acts 9:17-20)

 

A. Ananias Obeys (v. 17)

17. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

As Ananias encounters Saul, we should remember that Saul cannot see him. There is no indication that the two have ever met, so Ananias’s voice is not familiar to Saul. We have to imagine that Saul is just as fearful as Ananias, if not more so! Saul may be doubting everything he has been taught and has believed to this point. His world is turned upside down. He has been waiting sightless for three days without eating or drinking anything (Acts 9:9).

No idle chitchat is recorded as Ananias seems to get immediately to the point of the visit. His willingness to touch Saul while addressing him as Brother seems to indicate that Ananias’s fear has been at least partially allayed. We do not have to be completely without fear in order to obey. Fear grows when we sit and stew about what might happen. Fear is overcome by faith as faith is put into action.

What Do You Think?

Under what circumstances should physical contact with someone in distress be encouraged or discouraged? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding private, one-to-one counseling sessions

In light of cultural expectations or dictates

Other

The Lord, even Jesus is the focus of Ananias’s pronouncement to Saul. It is Jesus who has granted the parallel visions of Ananias and Saul. This supernatural knowledge confirms again for Saul that the Lord is active in all of this. This is not demonic deception. The fact that the risen Jesus has sent Ananias to restore Saul’s eyesight as predicted establishes that the man has not been abandoned.

But Ananias has also been sent for Saul to be filled with the Holy Ghost, something not recorded to have been made known to that man (see v. 12, above). Only Luke of the New Testament authors uses the phrases “filled with the Holy Ghost” or “full of the Holy Ghost.” In Luke’s Gospel, this status is applied to John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), his parents (1:41, 67), and Jesus (4:1).

In the book of Acts, the same status characterizes the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4), Peter on a later occasion (4:8), believers gathered for prayer (4:31), seven chosen to serve (6:3, 5; 7:55), Barnabas (11:24), Saul (here and 13:9), and unnamed disciples (13:52). The second of the two passages applied to Saul is accompanied by his name change from Saul to Paul. Further, there is significant irony in the fact that the context has the previously blinded Paul pronouncing blindness on an enemy of Christ (13:9-11).

B. Saul Sees (vv. 18, 19a)

18, 19a. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened.

As Saul’s blindness had been imposed instantaneously, so now is restoration of his sight. The word for what drops from his eyes is translated scales, indicating something like the scales of a fish. This does not mean that Saul has grown a fish-like skin over his eyes. The sense is of something that can be peeled off like the scales of a fish. It is as if a layer of skin that has covered his eyes is miraculously peeled away by the hand of God and falls to Saul’s lap. This may indicate that Saul’s eyesight was not damaged in and of itself, but has been blocked in a physical way as a result of his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road.

With this disabling condition removed, Saul wastes no time in receiving baptism. This likely is administered by Ananias, perhaps in the nearby Brada River. Saul is ready to go! The weakness that results from a three-day fast is quickly reversed by a meal. But we notice that the thing of greater spiritual significance (baptism) comes first.

C. Synagogues Hear (vv. 19b, 20)

19b, 20. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

The Jews of Damascus had expected Saul to come from Jerusalem and condemn those of their fellow Israelites who had embraced Christ. Instead, Saul begins to advocate the Christian message, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. So begins Saul’s career as a preacher.

The Foundation of Preaching

Walter Scott (1796-1861) was a highly effective evangelist and author. Over a lifetime of ministry, he developed an emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ. His book The Messiahship, of nearly 400 pages, documented his thought and study in this regard.

By analyzing the preaching of the apostles, Scott concluded that they preached only about Christ—that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah. The apostles supported their assertion by pointing to Jesus’ miracles, to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and to the testimony of eyewitnesses. Scott argued that this was a matter-of-fact conclusion, one that anyone with normal intelligence could accept, based on the factual support.

Much of Scott’s gospel preaching drew from a simple outline regarding things a person must do and things God promised to do for someone to receive salvation. Some parts of that outline are worded better than others, given the advance of biblical understanding since Scott’s day. But the outline as a whole rested on the foundational premise of Paul’s preaching: Jesus is the Son of God. And so it should remain. —J. B. N.

Conclusion

 

A. Faith and Obedience in Two Men

The dramatic events of Acts 9 record how extreme God’s action had to be for Saul to turn his attention to God’s call. Saul was so obsessed with climbing the ladder of favor within the Jewish leadership (Galatians 1:14) that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the Christian message. He was spiritually blind to the fact that he was persecuting Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God.

Visual for Lessons 3 & 12. Point to the last two lines of this hymn as you ask, “What has to happen for us to be aware of the deeds God expects of us?”

Saul, as Paul, went on to become the great apostle to the Gentiles. Christians of non-Jewish background owe him a great debt of gratitude, for he fought a somewhat lonely battle to gain an equal place in the church for people of all backgrounds. Even so, let us not forget the key role of the nearly anonymous Ananias, who was called by God to overcome his fears and minister to the church’s greatest enemy at just the right time.

The voice of Ananias was part of the call of God for the one who came to be known as the apostle Paul. Nearly 30 years later, Paul mentioned this man by name (Acts 22:12). He never forgot this man of faith, a faith that overcame fear.

Acts 9 is not intended as a pattern for how God brings people to faith, and the role of Paul as apostle was unique. Even so, God expects us at times to be His hands and feet, as was Ananias. May we overcome our fears as we answer that call.

B. Prayer

Lord, tune our spiritual eyes and ears to perceive the tasks You have for us. Grant us humility with courage as we embrace those tasks. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

God’s call is insistent and persistent.


August 27

Lesson 13

Called to Be Inclusive

Devotional Reading: Psalm 15

Background Scripture: Acts 10

Acts 10:19-33

19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.

20 Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.

21 Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?

22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.

23 Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

24 And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.

25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.

26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.

27 And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.

28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

29 Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?

30 And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,

31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.

32 Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.

33 Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.

Key Verse

[Peter] said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. —Acts 10:28

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Identify the “clean” and “unclean” references in Peter’s vision and his reaction thereto.

2. Evaluate Peter’s resistance to interacting with Gentiles in light of his declaration on Pentecost that the gospel is for everyone (Acts 2:39).

3. Pray for an opportunity to present the gospel cross-culturally.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Steadfast or Stubborn?

B. Lesson Background

I. Peter Responds (Acts 10:19-24)

A. Listening to God (vv. 19, 20)

B. Receiving Others (vv. 21-24)

II. Peter Clarifies (Acts 10:25-29)

A. Shared Humanity (vv. 25-27)

On Being Not God

B. Divisive Differences (vv. 28, 29)

When to Obey, and When Not To

III. Cornelius Explains (Acts 10:30-33)

A. Prepared Host (vv. 30-32)

B. Eager Audience (v. 33)

Conclusion

A. Just for You

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. Steadfast or Stubborn?

What are the nonnegotiables of your congregation, spoken or unspoken? A set order of service? A particular style of worship music? A certain Bible translation? A specific time for services? The mode of baptism? Home small groups? Type of clothing? Leadership qualifications?

Nonnegotiables that involve Bible doctrines we can call matters of the faith (with “the faith” referring to the body of doctrine to be believed; compare Titus 1:13; Jude 3). The things some may consider to be nonnegotiable but which have no basis in Scripture can be called matters of expediency. Typically, these are changeable methods of making ministry happen.

The matters-of-the-faith list is, of course, the more important. As we ponder our lists, we should ask this question: When is “standing firm” valid and when it is merely lifeless legalism? Being steadfast in following God’s will is one thing; stubbornly insisting on our own will, which we think to be God’s will too, is another. Let’s look at how Peter dealt with this dilemma.

B. Lesson Background

Following the account of Saul’s conversion, the focus of the book of Acts shifts back to Peter. Persecution had subsided, and Peter enjoyed freedom of movement (Acts 9:31, 32). He healed a bedridden man in Lydda, which resulted in mass conversion to Christianity (9:33-35).

Called hurriedly to nearby Joppa, Peter encountered the grief of those whose friend Tabitha had died. Mass conversion resulted yet again, as God brought the dead woman back to life through Peter’s ministry (9:36-42). A welcome reception resulted in a stay of “many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner” (9:43). The fact that Peter would stay there for any length of time is interesting given that tanners were regularly “unclean” because of contact with animal carcasses (Leviticus 11:26-28).

Joppa is a coastal city of central Palestine, situated on a bluff overlooking a small natural harbor. It is about 35 miles northwest of Jerusalem. A well-traveled thoroughfare connected the two cities, for Joppa effectively had served as the Mediterranean port city for Jerusalem since the time of Solomon (see 2 Chronicles 2:16).

About 30 miles north of Joppa was the newer city of Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea by the sea), rebuilt by Herod the Great and named for his patron and friend Caesar Augustus. Herod created Caesarea according to the pattern of grand Roman cities, with broad streets, landmark temples, an aqueduct water supply, and a spacious theater. These features made Caesarea Maritima (not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi [Mark 8:27]) the preferred residence for Roman officials stationed in Palestine. When compared with hot, dusty, and trouble-prone Jerusalem, we can see why!

Centurions, one of whom Peter encountered in Caesarea, were professional, career soldiers. A centurion commanded a unit known as a century, which consisted of 100 soldiers and support personnel. There were six centuries in a band (or cohort), and 10 bands in a Roman battle legion.

The centurion Peter encountered in today’s lesson is said to have been part of “the Italian band” (Acts 10:1). The designation Italian indicates that the unit’s constituents were men primarily from Rome and its surrounding regions. The men were not provincial auxiliaries from allies or conquered territories. This was an elite group, as Roman as Roman could be. The word band may indicate that the troop strength in Caesarea was at least 600 soldiers.

How to Say It

Caesar Augustus See-zer Aw-gus-tus.

Caesarea Maritima Sess-uh-ree-uh Mar-uh-tee-muh.

centurion sen-ture-ee-un.

Cornelius Cor-neel-yus.

Galilee Gal-uh-lee.

Gentiles Jen-tiles.

Joppa Jop-uh.

Judea Joo-dee-uh.

Lydda Lid-uh.

Mediterranean Med-uh-tuh-ray-nee-un.

Samaritan Suh-mare-uh-tun.

Solomon Sol-o-mun.

Acts 10:1 also tells us that the name of the centurion Peter encountered was Cornelius. He seems to have been a most unusual Roman! Rather than despising the Jews of Palestine (as most Romans did; contrast Luke 7:1-5), he was attracted to them and their religion. He is described as devout: one who feared God, gave to the poor, and prayed (Acts 10:2). His lifestyle and attitude had not gone unnoticed either by God (10:4) or by the Jewish people (10:22).

I. Peter Responds

                                                                 (Acts 10:19-24)

Just before today’s lesson text opens, Peter experiences a three-part vision in which he sees many animals that are “unclean” by Jewish law, and yet he is commanded three times to kill and eat them. Peter protests the directive each time, claiming that he has never violated the law by eating what is considered unclean (Acts 10:10-16).

This is a side of Peter we have not really seen before as recorded by the author Luke (who wrote Luke and Acts). He has been presented as a self-confessed sinful man (Luke 5:8). His sinfulness lies in areas other than keeping the dietary laws, though, and he cannot conceive of eating pork or lizard meat.

Yet the voice in the vision tells him not to call things “common” that God has made clean (Acts 10:15). This points to a coming need for Peter to move beyond his long-held understanding of Jewish purity and Gentile uncleanness.

A. Listening to God (vv. 19, 20)

19, 20. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.

A stunned Peter is sorting it out when the Spirit interrupts with instructions. The three men who are outside looking for Peter consist of two household servants and a trusted soldier sent by Cornelius (Acts 10:7). The ultimate sender though is God, for the Spirit tells Peter, I have sent them. God is orchestrating the meetings of key people according to His plan. What is being arranged is the most startling of divine appointments: a Jewish fisherman with a Gentile army officer!

What Do You Think?

How do we know when hesitating is a good thing or a bad thing?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In Christian contexts (new ministries, etc.)

In secular contexts (job offers, etc.)

“He who hesitates is lost” vs. “Look before you leap”

B. Receiving Others (vv. 21-24)

21. Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?

Peter may be puzzled, but he obeys the urging of the Spirit without delay. The three men are Gentiles, so greeting and meeting them is not normal procedure for one such as Peter, who keeps the Law of Moses.

Peter doesn’t play hard to get as he immediately identifies himself and pushes the visitors to disclose their mission. He wants to make sense out of all this. How do three strangers at the door relate to a vision of eating forbidden food?

22. And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.

Imagine the conflicting thoughts in Peter’s mind as he listens. Another centurion like the one I met earlier? [Luke 7:1-10] An arrogant occupier of my homeland? A just man? Is there any such thing among the brutal Romans? One that feareth God? How can he fear the one true God, since the Romans worship many gods? Of good report among my fellow Jews? A holy angel has spoken to an unholy Gentile?

Peter’s head must be spinning with all this startling information—information that ends with an invitation. But it is presented in a way that makes it hard to sustain his doubts.

What Do You Think?

How should Christians respond to those who fear God but have not yielded to Jesus?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Ways to respond relationally

Ways to respond doctrinally

Ways to respond emotionally

Other

23. Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

Peter obediently welcomes the men into Simon’s house. Simon himself is regularly “unclean” (see the Lesson Background), and now more uncleanness is added as Gentiles are provided overnight lodging. But this indicates that Peter is agreeing to accompany them the next day.

The certain brethren from Joppa who join Peter on the trip are six in number (Acts 11:12). Adding those six to the three from Cornelius plus Peter himself yields a traveling group of 10. A 30-mile trek by foot to Caesarea means a journey requiring more than a single day of dawn-to-dusk walking.

24. And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.

The time required for the envoys of Cornelius to travel to Joppa and back allows the centurion time to assemble his kinsmen and near friends. This gives the impression that he has been stationed in Caesarea for some time, having brought family along on the deployment. Caesarea is a Gentile enclave, making it unlikely that a Jewish fisherman from Galilee has been there before.

What Do You Think?

In what unusual ways have you seen God open doors for the gospel?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Among neighbors

Within families

Among your colleagues at work or school

Other

II. Peter Clarifies

                                                                  (Acts 10:25-29)

Before we consider what Peter has to say to those gathered, we can pause to realize that he has already spent many hours walking and talking with the three men Cornelius sent. The text does not record the content of those conversations, but their substance is easy to imagine!

A. Shared Humanity (vv. 25-27)

25, 26. And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.

The surprises continue for Peter as Cornelius, a centurion quickly recognizable as such by his attire, falls down in a posture of worship toward the apostle! This is both unexpected and unpleasant for Peter. It unexpected because if anyone is to show deference toward another in that culture, it would be Peter’s deference toward the Roman centurion. Moreover, Peter knows that worship is to be directed toward God alone (Exodus 20:3; etc.).

Therefore Peter cannot allow this false worship to continue. In affirming their common humanity, Peter implies that mortals are not to be worshipped (compare Acts 14:11-18).

On Being Not God

I once met a man who had been a radio operator in the Russian army in 1953. When he sent out word that Stalin had died, his commander threatened to shoot him for spreading a falsehood. “Stalin cannot die,” the commander declared.

History is filled with accounts of people who think more highly of themselves than they ought (compare Romans 12:3). Roman emperors considered themselves to be at least semi-divine (compare Acts 12:21-23). Medieval kings were often thought to have miraculous healing powers. The disciples themselves needed correction in their self-evaluations (Mark 9:33-37; 10:35-45).

Today’s text reveals that Peter rejected any divine prestige for himself. While no genuine Christian would dare claim to be deity, we skirt the edges of that danger when we take credit that belongs to God (see Daniel 4:29-32). The best way to handle such temptation? Listen to Jesus: “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10). —J. B. N.

27. And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.

A potential surprise for Peter: this is not to be a private discussion. There is a houseful of men and woman, likely all Gentiles, who have assembled to hear what Peter has to say.

B. Divisive Differences (vv. 28, 29)

28. And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

Peter is processing his conflicting thoughts out loud. On the one hand, he believes strongly that Jews are to have no contact with those from another nation (Gentiles). This is what he has been taught from childhood. His view of Gentiles is culturally ingrained and is supported by Scripture applicable to the old covenant (Leviticus 20:23, 24, 26; etc.).

On the other hand, Peter has just had a troubling vision that has challenged his most cherished taboo: eating the flesh of an animal forbidden as unclean (see the Lesson Background). This has served to remind him that the Lord is the master of His own laws.

God’s laws are purposeful. He set boundaries on what the nation of Israel should eat and with whom they should associate for their benefit. But as Peter hears himself say I should not call any man common or unclean, he seems to realize that these ancient laws are passing away. He must let the Lord’s leading overcome long-held beliefs that cause him to shun Gentiles.

When to Obey, and When Not To

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required that authorities and citizens in America’s “free” states had to assist in the capture and return of runaway slaves. This unjust law caused political upheaval across much of the United States, and the law was often disobeyed. Given our need to respect governing authority (Romans 13:1-7), this question arises: Under what circumstances can or should a law be disobeyed?

At least three situations present themselves. A given law should be disobeyed if (1) it contravenes universal principles of morality and justice or (2) following it would result in breaking a more important law or (3) it has been superseded or set aside by appropriate authority. The first situation fits that of disobeying the Fugitive Slave Act. The second concern stands behind the dialogue in Mark 12:28-34. The third is illustrated by today’s text.

The Law of Moses required separation from that which was unholy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2). Therefore there was to be no friendship with the unholy pagans (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Various traditions developed over the centuries to ensure enforcement, lest sins of the past be repeated. But Peter realized that something had changed!

The holiness mandate still applied, as Peter himself later wrote (1 Peter 1:15, 16). But he was not to allow old-covenant mandates for maintaining holiness to keep him from interacting with those who needed the gospel. It took time for Peter to conduct himself consistently in this regard (Galatians 2:11-14). May it not take us as long! —J. B. N.

Visual for Lesson 13. Create a multiple-choice test with these four topics as the potential responses to each question. Use the test as a unit review.

What Do You Think?

How might God answer prayers to help us take the gospel across a cultural barrier?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding the “internal barriers” of our own viewpoints (example: Jonah 3:10-4:11)

Regarding the “external barriers” between cultures themselves (example: Acts 17:16-31)

Regarding combinations of the two

29. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?

Without gainsaying means “without protesting.” Even so, Peter has come not knowing exactly why God has put him in this position. Peter is ready to do God’s will and assumes that Cornelius can provide details that will help him understand. Peter is already aware that Cornelius also has had a vision from God (Acts 10:3, 22).

III. Cornelius Explains

                                                                   (Acts 10:30-33)

Recalling the information in the Lesson Background enriches our understanding of what happens next as Peter yields the floor to Cornelius,

A. Prepared Host (vv. 30-32)

30. And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing.

Cornelius begins by recounting the facts of the angelic visitation of Acts 10:3-6. Four days may seem a long time for us, but it shows the immediacy of the events to first-century readers. Considering the time it takes to walk to and from Joppa, there is no delay. A clue to the devoutness of Cornelius is seen in the fact that the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.) is “the hour of prayer” for Jews (Acts 3:1).

31. And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.

We are not told the exact content of the prayer of Cornelius, but that is not the point here. The angel revealed that God had been hearing his prayers and noting his kindness toward the poor. Alms means, in awkward English, something like “compassionateness.” This may refer specifically to monetary gifts (as in Acts 3:1-6) or to acts of compassion in a general sense (as in Matthew 6:1).

A very important thing to learn from this verse is that God may indeed hear the prayers of non-Christians. Cornelius is neither a Jew nor a Christian at this point, yet his prayers have been heard. It is God who decides whose prayers are heard, not we or our doctrinal positions.

32. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.

The details of Cornelius’s vision must startle Peter. The centurion has been made aware of the details of Peter’s name and given the apostle’s exact location! It is also important that Peter come to Cornelius rather than the other way around, because full acceptance of Gentiles is best brought about in a Gentile home.

B. Eager Audience (v. 33)

33. Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.

By means of the last sentence of this verse, Cornelius yields the floor back to Peter. History is about to be made, and Cornelius seems to know it. The stage is set for a great leap of inclusion, the moment when the church expands beyond its Jewish foundations. The barrier between Jew and Gentile is about to fall.

God does not leave this to chance or accident. He has chosen Cornelius to be the launching point for Gentile inclusion in the church because that man’s heart is receptive to God’s leading. Cornelius surely has his own baggage of bias against Jews. He surely is tainted with his own history of pagan practices as any Roman of the day is. But the Lord sees into his heart. God knows he is the right person at this pivotal moment in history.

The vital nature of this moment is underlined and highlighted by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44) and Peter’s lengthy defense of his actions later in Jerusalem (11:1-18). That section ends with Peter’s critics saying, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” God’s activities are truly remarkable!

What Do You Think?

What can your church do to make its outreach more inclusive? What limits to inclusiveness, if any, should be maintained in the process?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In reaching across racial divides

In reaching across generational divides

In reaching across doctrinal divides

Other

Conclusion

 

A. Just for You

The spokesperson in an insurance company commercial offers an excellent deal to a customer. The grateful response is, “You’d do that just for me?” The spokesperson replies, “Just for you ... and everyone else.” A turning point in history occurred when God revealed to Peter that Jesus was just for him ... and everyone else.

The Christian faith is intended to be universal. The church Jesus established is to stand apart from the ethnic or national ties that characterize so many other religions, whether in the first century or in the twenty-first. The church is not just for those who dress as we do or share our taste in worship music. The church has no second-class citizens. The church is not just for those of a “targeted demographic.” Jesus expects us to invite everyone from everywhere. See Matthew 28:19, 20.

B. Prayer

Father of all, we thank You for including us in the church Your Son established. May the Spirit empower us to ensure that others are included as well. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

May we heed God as He teaches us where to stand and where to stretch.


Standard Lesson Commentary 2016-2017 (KJV): StandardLessonCmy2016KJV.

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless