Do you like surprises? Especially those that are totally unexpected? Obsessed with his anti-Christian crusade, Saul never expected Jesus’ appearance to him on the Damascus road. Ananias was surprised by the commission to lay hands on a sightless Saul, welcoming him into the community of believers. The radical change in Saul of Tarsus was certainly unexpected by those who had heard of him or had experienced his tirade against Christians. Our God likes surprises. And, He does the unexpected as well as the expected in our lives.
The range of the gospel message has been steadily broadened. Already it crossed the barrier that separated Jews from Samaritans, surprising the Jerusalem church. Now, it crosses a much greater chasm between Jews and Gentiles. God Himself initiates the event as He surprises Peter and Cornelius with visions leading the way to an even bigger surprise—the complete inclusion of Gentile believers into the church by faith alone. As Peter declared to the incredulous apostles, “Who was I to think that I could oppose God (11:17)?” The God of the unexpected works through our weaknesses, leads us to appreciate someone we previously disliked or distrusted, and surprises us with gifts from unexpected sources. What a joy it is to serve Him!
Read Acts 10:1-12:25 in one sitting to get the whole picture. As you do, read it telescopically—in light of the whole. Pray that God would open your heart to the truths He has for you from this text.
1. Discovering the Facts: What information is given about Cornelius?
Historical Insight: Caesarea, located 30 miles north of Joppa, was the provincial headquarters for the Roman forces of occupation. A centurion commanded a military unit that normally numbered at least 100 men. Centurions were carefully selected; all of them mentioned in the New Testament appear to have had noble qualities and provided necessary stability to the entire Roman system. (NIV Study Bible, p. 1662)
2. What was Cornelius doing when the angel appeared to him? What had God noticed about Cornelius? How did he respond? See also vv. 30-33.
3. Discuss the vision given to Peter, Peter’s initial response, and what he heard the voice speak?
Scriptural Insight: Fell into a trance. A state of mind God produced and used to communicate with Peter. It was not merely imagination or a dream. Peter’s consciousness was heightened to receive the vision from God. (NIV Study Bible, p. 1663)
4. Read Hebrews 11:6 and Romans 1:17. Relate these verses to what is declared in Acts 10:15, 34-35.
Deeper Discoveries: Read Leviticus 11 for information regarding the law concerning unclean animals. Considering Peter’s refusal to eat them, what animals might have been on the sheet?
5. Share Your Life: Twice before, Jesus used “3 times” to teach or exhort Peter (John 13:38; John 21:15-17). Knowing He understood Peter’s weaknesses and learning style, relate this to the fact that Jesus can use for His service those who are slow learners, impulsive people, experiential learners as well as the ones who obey easily and without hesitation whatever they read or are told. What does this mean to you?
6. What instruction did the Spirit give to Peter in v. 19? So, who directed the angel’s appearance to Cornelius? What does v. 23 reveal regarding Peter’s understanding of the message of the vision? See also vv. 28-29.
7. What did Cornelius do in anticipation of Peter’s visit? Why?
8. Compare Peter’s message to the Gentiles (vv. 36-43) with what he has delivered to Jewish audiences. What is the same? What is not included in his invitation to the Gentiles (v. 43)? See 2:38-39 for help. Why do you think this is omitted?
9. The God of the unexpected does something to show the Jews that He not only accepts the Gentiles by faith in Christ but also includes them in His Church. What is it? Why was it necessary to have Jewish witnesses of this (Peter plus 6 companions, 11:12)?
Scriptural Insight: In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus declared that Peter would be given significant authority (“keys”) to build Christ’s church. Three times he was present as the Holy Spirit was given to the three possible groups of people who could be accepted into Christ’s church (Jews in 2:1-41, Samaritans in 8:14-17, and the Gentiles in 10:44-46). In a sense, the “keys” opened three doors.
10. Share Your Life: What has God done that has been unexpected in your life?
11. Discovering the Facts: In 11:1-18, how did the Jewish believers initially respond to God’s inclusion of the Gentiles? What revelation is given to them from the Holy Spirit through Peter (vv. 9, 14)? What was Peter’s conclusion? How did they respond?
Think About It: The news of Peter’s revolutionary behavior, in entering a Gentile house at Caesarea, reached Jerusalem before he himself did. (F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 219)
12. Share Your Life: Have you felt distrust or prejudice against someone you only knew from a distance but then got to know personally? Perhaps you expected to dislike them but unexpectedly learned to not only like them but also to appreciate them and rejoice over knowing them? What changed your mind?
13. Read 11:17 again. Who initiated and directed the contact between Peter and the Gentiles? Who demonstrated His complete acceptance of the Gentiles in front of Jewish witnesses?
Scriptural Insight: The Jewish believers were compelled to recognize that God was going to save Gentiles on equal terms with Jews. By divine action rather than by human choice, the door was being opened to Gentiles. (NIV Study Bible, p. 1666)
14. For more than 5 years, the Gentiles have not been hearing the gospel message. Now, the door is wide open for them, by God Himself. What happens in vv. 20-21?
15. Remember Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37; 9:27)? Considering his ethnic background, character and spiritual gifts, why would he be a good choice for the Jerusalem church leaders to send to pastor these new believers in the first mainly Gentile church?
16. Share Your Life: Relate any experiences you have had with helping new Christians grow in their relationship with Jesus. What qualities are needed to help someone along in her new faith? Did someone disciple you as a new believer? If you can, share a “Barnabas” experience.
Scriptural Insight: Possibly while he was in Tarsus, some of the sufferings described in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 and the mysterious experience described in 2 Corinthians 12:2-9 occurred. Based on Acts 15:41 and 22:17-21, some think Saul was already ministering to Gentiles when Barnabas brought him to Antioch. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 383)
17. Barnabas sought out Paul to help him with this ministry. For about 5 years, Paul had been in Tarsus, faithfully teaching there. What qualities did Paul bring to the ministry that made him a good match for the mission? How do they complement each other?
From the Greek: The title “Christian” literally means those “belonging to the party of Christ” and is used only three times in Scripture (Acts 11:26; 26:28 and I Peter 4:16). They were now recognized as a distinct group.
18. What was the response of the Christians at Antioch when they heard the prophecy of the famine? See Romans 15:27. What did their actions demonstrate about the work of the Spirit in their hearts?
Think About It: As the Jerusalem church had ministered to the church in Antioch by providing leadership and teaching, the Antioch church now was able to minister to the Jerusalem church with financial aid (cf. Gal. 6:6). (Dr. Constable’s Notes on Acts, p. 167)
19. Share Your Life: The Jews received an unexpected gift of love (money) from an unexpected source (the Gentiles). Have you ever received an unexpected gift from an unexpected source?
20. Discovering the Facts: James’s death happened about 13 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. List the events surrounding Peter’s arrest and involved in his deliverance (vv. 3-11).
Historical Insight: Herod Agrippa I, nephew of the king who tried Jesus, was partly Jewish and known for doing everything possible to curry the favor of the Jews, so he found it politically expedient to arrest Christians, including Peter, and to execute James. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 384)
21. What was the church doing while Peter was in prison? Then, why do you think they were astonished in vv. 15-16? In light of what happened to James, what was unexpected?
Scriptural Insight: Mary was Barnabas’s aunt (Colossians 4:10). Her home was possibly the location for the Last Supper (Mark 14:13-15).
22. Share Your Life: As you pray, do you prepare your heart for the unexpected as well as what you expect? What steps can you take to do this?
Deeper Discoveries: God is omnipotent. Define this word. Look up the following verses and tell what God can do that is humanly impossible: Genesis 18:10-14; 21:1-2; John 6:8-13, 15-21; 11:38-44. How does knowing this encourage you?
23. What was Herod not expecting that day?
Historical Insight: This occurred in A.D. 44. This account parallels that given by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews. Though this Herod is dead, three of his children figure prominently later in Acts. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 385)
24. Read Romans 12:19. In the midst of persecution, what should be left to God alone?
Deeper Discoveries: Read Psalm 73 which describes the emotions of a godly man looking at wicked men who seem to get away with their wickedness and prosper while doing so. Of what do we need to remind ourselves?
Review the scripture passage covered in this lesson for evidences of the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. What will you ask God to do in your life?