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November 28 lesson: Good News for All

November 14, 2021
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Good News for All

Fall Quarter: Celebrating God
Unit 3: Visions of Praise

Sunday school lesson for the week of November 28, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard


Background Scripture: Acts 10:34-47
Key Scripture (NIV): “Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’” Acts 10:34-35

Lesson Aims:
  1. To understand Simon Peter’s call.
  2. To understand the substance of that call.
  3. To understand the obstacles to that call.
Simon Peter’s Call

Social Background

It is an understatement to claim the disciples possessed feet of clay. We relate so closely to Peter for just that reason. He was a hardworking fisherman, eking out a living while being overlooked by all who society considered powerful. He was married but we have no record of children. The relationships between husbands and wives functioned far differently than those today. Marriages were more functional. There were roles to be fulfilled, tasks to be done, and expectations to be met. Today’s marriages are characterized by the emotional and spiritual connection of the couple. The one thing that created the differentiation between today’s marriages and those of Jesus’ day was the marital contract. Marriages were arranged, and therefore often had little to do with emotional love. Therefore, it was not uncommon for a husband to be absent from his spouse and family while engaged in work or other activity, as long as he provided. Thus, Peter’s accompaniment of Jesus was most certainly accepted by his wife.

Simon Peter was a man with hopes and dreams like all of us. However, the opportunity to make his mark in the world was almost nonexistent. There was little, if any, social mobility. While working on missions to the Yucatan I met a 13-year-old boy with tremendous musical ability. Sadly, I knew the opportunities before him were few. In his culture, if one is born poor they are most likely to stay poor and live unrecognized. This was pretty much Peter’s plight. Therefore, when Peter met Jesus and answered his call, his entire existence was transformed. He could envision a future! He was not perfected in that moment. His journeys with Jesus chipped away at his rough exterior, seeking to reveal the precious gem at his core that God would use to establish the early Church.

Peter’s initial call was to follow Jesus. Simon Peter possessed preconceived notions as to the role of Messiah. Like his fellow Jews, he expected a military leader, much akin to the Old Testament judges, to unite Israel in overthrowing Rome. He was nowhere near to understanding the reality of a Messiah who would usher in the reign of God through peace and redemption. Note that Jesus did not confront Peter directly when first called. As Peter walked with Jesus he would encounter the reality of God’s Kingdom in Jesus, and his perception would be slowly altered. God does not call us when we are perfect in life or understanding. We are called to follow Jesus as we are. The open heart and life that journeys with Jesus will begin to embrace the liberating truth of Jesus and the Kingdom. Peter would have possessed no idea in the beginning that one day he would preach to Gentiles that God loved them!

Where were you personally and socially when you responded to Jesus’ call? Did you know everything? Have you now recognized you have been called to a journey that leads to greater understanding and sacrifice? Can you articulate how you understood your call to follow Jesus in the beginning? How does that initial understanding compare to your understanding today?

Substance of Peter’s Call

Peter’s phrase in verse 34, “I now realize,” is revealing. This phrase reveals Peter’s journey in the faith. Faith is a journey of realizing. We understand today what we did not understand years ago, or even yesterday. Our life is a series of discoveries, one illuminating the next. There remained a lot Peter had not discovered. This phrase causes us to ask, “What made Peter now realize?” Peter was sitting atop a roof at Joppa. People often retired to the roof at the end of the day to relax and enjoy cooler temperatures. Many went to the roof to think and pray. While Peter is atop the roof, a vision appears. It is a vision of a sheet lowered from heaven. Animals appeared on the sheet. They represented every animal, reptile, or bird that was forbidden to eat. Yet, God calls Peter to eat! Peter would have been perplexed. To eat was to violate Old Testament law. However, God declared the unclean to be clean. God’s spoken word made everything clean.

We should not overlook the fact that this vision occurs in Joppa. Joppa was the site where Jonah fled from God’s call to preach to Nineveh and the place where Jonah was expelled upon the beach. From Joppa, Jonah would travel to the most violent, unclean city in the known world and proclaim God’s message. The same thing is happening to Peter. Gentiles from the house of Cornelius arrived to escort Peter to their home. Cornelius and his household were Gentiles. For Peter, the household would be unclean. However, now Peter has realized that God had declared them clean through his Word. The Word, the Logos, Jesus, had come to save everyone, including Gentiles! This experience with Cornelius fulfills the structure given us in Acts 1:8. The Gospel has been preached in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and now it is going into the uttermost parts of the earth!

When you say Jesus has called you, can you express the nature of that call? What is the mission of that call? It’s intent and purpose? Where has your call taken you spiritually as you walk with Jesus? What do you see more clearly and hear more keenly? What actions in which you engage today stand in contrast to the actions of the past? Where have you walked that you normally would never go? What has God done through you that you could not have conceived in the beginning?

Obstacles to Peter’s Call

Prejudice

One of the major character flaws of Peter was his prejudice against Gentiles. In Peter’s understanding of God, Israel was God’s favored nation. Therefore, the Israelites were the recipients of every good and perfect gift from God, especially the Messiah. Instead of ancient Israel reaching outward with loving hearts and truth that could alter the world, they turned inward. Consequently, the Gentiles stood on the outside looking in. Peter, like most, had little use for the Gentiles.

It is important to note that Peter’s prejudice remained after his powerful experience at Pentecost! Peter descended from the upper room a new man. He understood the purpose of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. His first sermon was preached just outside the upper room. However, prejudice remained in his heart. Our Christian conversion is a beginning. We are God’s child, but far from the person God desires we be. Pentecost was the third touch upon Peter’s life. He had been touched by all Jesus had done and said. He was touched when Jesus reclaimed him after he denied Jesus three times. Then, he was powerfully touched at Pentecost when the events in the redemptive story all began to make sense as he was filled by the Holy Spirit. Our Christian life is a “journey of touches.” We were touched prior to even becoming a Christian. John Wesley called this touch “prevenient grace” which means grace that precedes. At some time, we yielded our heart to that grace. Our lives will be touched many times over, each touch bringing enlightenment, strength, comfort and hope. On the roof at Joppa Peter experienced another touch of the Lord.

Many of us were reared in prejudice. There is nothing godly about prejudice. It is a learned behavior that we had the choice to lay aside or continue to walk in it. At some point in our life we realized God’s love for all, and thus, we should love all without restraint or conditions.

In verses 34-43 Peter lays the foundation for his preaching. It took courage for Peter to stand and preach, “I now realize God loves everyone in Christ!” Peter goes so far as to tell his listeners that God accepts everyone from every nation. In the opening of Acts the structural groundwork is laid for the geographical movement in the book.

Can you describe the destruction that emerges from prejudice in life and in the faith? Can you share a moment when you experienced such destruction? Can you express you own experience with prejudice in your life? Can you describe your journey toward inclusiveness and acceptance of all? Is prejudice still a hinderance? How do you believe we can help one another in overcoming all prejudice and bias?

We also read Peter’s inclusion of favoritism as a sin and hinderance to the spreading of the Gospel. Humankind has found the means to divide and disrespect others since our fall from grace. Initially, the great division existed between men and women and their status in life. Eventually, a division arose relating to tribalism. Tribalism later became nationalism with nation dividing against nation. Even religion became a source of division with the declaration that one nation’s gods were greater than others.

Jesus was the embodiment of the one true God. His life, death and resurrection destroyed division and called for unity in God. Favoritism can prove more personal as it relates to power and wealth. Among the masses of people in Jesus’ day, people were separated by social class. Jews in the area of Jerusalem thought themselves better than the blue-collar workers of Galilee. Within such division Peter was born and reared. People with power and money were treated differently, and better, than the masses.

Where do you encounter favoritism today? How does it normally reveal itself? Can you describe the destructive elements of favoritism? How does favoritism contradict the Gospel? What can our churches do to better overcome favoritism?

In our text, Peter reveals his one great obstacle in moving forward in his calling to be an apostle and to be a good man: His belief that God loves the Jews more than the Gentiles. The vision of the sheet had a tremendous effect upon Peter. His message was drastically altered. His message no longer called just the Jewish people to accept Jesus as Messiah; he was calling to the world to recognize that the gift of Christ was for all. Paul’s conversion occurred in the preceding chapter. Paul was persecuting Jewish Christians as Peter was beginning his ministry among the Jews. Through God’s grace and the vision at Joppa, Peter realized the Gospel was for the world; Paul begins here and actually takes it into the world.

It is interesting to again note that the early Church experienced few arguments related to baptism in relation to how, when, and where. The arguments were mostly related to who baptized whom. Peter proclaims that through Christ all believers are to be united in the “one baptism and faith.” We are brought into the family of God, and the mission of God to redeem the world through Christ.

Is there a particular experience that opened your eyes to God’s acceptance and love for all? How did you respond to the experience? What can our churches do to better share the Gospel of God’s inclusive love in Christ?

Prayer

Almighty God, when we recall our past and examine our today, we are humbled. We thank you for deliverance from anything that hinders our love for another. Grant us a greater vision of the community of faith in the world, and the courage necessary to make this vision a reality. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at craigrikard169@yahoo.com.

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