Friday, August 28, 2015

Peter & the Gentiles




Sabbath School Study Outline
August 29, 2015

Larry R Evans, Teacher

Introduction

 “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’” (Acts 10:34-35)

This is a key verse in our study today but before we get to it, let’s remind ourselves of the setting first:

·      Before Peter was brought to Cornelius in Caesarea he was staying in Joppa with a man called Simon.  Does the city of Joppa sound familiar?  It was the port city where the prophet Jonah boarded a ship to flee from his mission assignment hundreds of years earlier (Jonah 1:3).  His mission?  To go to the self-acknowledged wicked city of Nineveh and appeal for repentance. 
·      Peter was staying in the home of a “tanner”.  Tanners had low social status.  The tanning process took animal hides and treated them with animal and human waste.  No wonder they lived on the edge of towns. What a contrast to go from there to the home of Cornelius!
·      Cornelius was a Roman officer.  Romans and Jews normally did not mix well.  Roman soldiers normally supported the enemies of the Jews. It was unusual for a solder to be friendly to the Jews and follow their religion.
·      The story of Peter visiting Cornelius is the longest story in the book of Acts and plays a pivotal role for the entire book.

The Story

The first five chapters of Acts describes the establishment of the church in Jerusalem and the opposition it faced because Jesus was being preached. By the time we get to chapters 10 and 11, our focus for today, we find the church expanding beyond Jerusalem and reaching out to even the Gentiles!

Chapter 10 begins in a very strange way.  We have a Gentile, Cornelius, having a vision in Caesarea.  He is a man of prayer and generous when it came to helping others meet their needs.  The time of the vision is mentioned in verse 3.  – 3 p.m. (9th hour).  It just so happens that this is the hour of prayer in the temple at Jerusalem. (See 3:1) We don’t know what prayers were being prayed but no doubt prayers were being answered with the vision given to Cornelius who had also been praying.  He is sent three individuals to go get Peter at Joppa.

The next day when Peter was on the roof praying he became hungry and while waiting for the meal to be prepared he had a vision.  In that vision he saw a sheet being let down to earth.  On that sheet were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds.  Then a strange thing happened!  A voice told Peter to “Get up. Kill and eat!”  Like a good Jew Peter, echoing Leviticus 11,  said he would not eat anything that was unclean!  Then Peter was told not to call anything impure that God has made clean.  This happened 3 times!

About this time three visitors from Caesarea arrived asking Peter to go with them to Cornelius and he did.  When he arrived he found that a large group had gathered.  They were not Jews.  Peter begins by saying:

“He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)

Here we have Peter’s interpretation of the vision that he had been given.  The vision wasn’t about food but food was used to describe prejudices that would have limited the flow of the gospel to unreached people. 

In his conversation with Cornelius he summarizes the whole experience this way: 

“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:34-36)



Questions

1.        The outpouring of God’s Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was designed to set Israel apart as His special people.  (Acts 1:8)  True or False?
2.        If God’s laws are written on the hearts of person it is not necessary to share more doctrines with them. (Acts 10:2, 33)  True or False?
3.        God brought Peter and Cornelius together so He could teach Peter about a new dietary plan.  (Acts 10:28)  True or False?
4.        Peter’s experience with Cornelius reveals that it is not necessary to become a Jew to be part of God’s people. (Acts 10:45,46)  True or False?
5.        When Peter explained what had happened with Cornelius and his interpretation of the dream regarding food and the Gentiles it was accepted by the church leaders in Jerusalem. (Acts 11:18)

Application Questions

1.        Why do you think it is so hard to accept other cultures?  Or other viewpoints?
2.        Did Peter face “political” pressures in the church of his time?
3.        Why do you think there Acts gives such emphasis to the disciples being “constantly in prayer” (1:14), that prayer was involved in the selection of the replacement of Judas (1:24),  that much emphasis was given to Cornelius praying “regularly” (10:2), that his vision came at the time of prayer in Jerusalem (Acts 10:3) and that Peter had gone up on the roof to pray and there had his vision (10:9).  Why?  What was happening in the church at that time?  Is there a correlation?  What can we learn for their experience?
4.        How inclusive is God when choosing His witnesses?
Cornelius, sons and daughters, men and women, Gentiles and Jews?  (Acts 2:17,18)

Concluding Thought

As we consider the lesson and the mission before us, perhaps the words of Peter are appropriate:

“grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18).



Friday, July 24, 2015

The Jonah Saga: When the "Chosen" Disappoint God

The Jonah Saga:
When the Chosen Disappoint God
Sabbath School Bible Study
July25
Presented at Sligo by the Sea by
Larry R Evans

Reflective Questions

1.              When the chosen of God go contrary to His wishes, God starts all over with a new people and new prophets.  True or False?
2.              God’s mission as described in the Bible is about “going ” not “coming.”  True or False?
3.              The first question a Christian must ask himself or herself is:  “What must I do?  This is what Jonah didn’t do and where he made his first mistake. True or False?
4.              It is possible for “pagans” to have a more realistic belief in God than the “chosen ones” of God who have been schooled in the teachings of the Bible.  True or False?
5.              Jonah needed to experience “Salvation comes from the Lord” before he could offer it to the Ninevites.  True or False?
6.              Jonah ran “from” God and then “to” God but as a missionary/ as a witness God needed Jonah to do something even more challenging.  What preposition would describe that challenge?  How is it different from the other two prepositions?

Our Study

1.              When the chosen of God go contrary to His wishes, God starts all over with a new people and new prophets.  False

The book of Jonah is about a reluctant prophet chosen by God who became as much of an object of mission for God as the Nenevites to whom He was sending Jonah.  God worked to save Jonah though this caused a delay in reaching the Ninevites.
2.              God’s mission as described in the Bible is about “going ” not “coming.”   False

Mission in the Bible is of two types: “come” and “go.”
Come is the main type of mission in the OT.  God intended that the nations would come to Israel because of how He had blessed her.

This is what the Lord Almighty says:“In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.  (Zech 8:23)
3.              The first question a Christian must ask himself or herself is:  “What must I do?  This is what Jonah didn’t do and where he made his first mistake.  False

Jonah knew what he was supposed to do.  What he didn’t know and what the book of Jonah reveals is who God is!  If we begin there we will better understand who we are and what will bring about our own sense of meaning and fulfillment.

4.              It is possible for “pagans” to have a more realistic belief in God than the “chosen ones” of God who have been schooled in the teachings of the Bible.  True

The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish. (v.6) . . . ”This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so. (1:10) . . . Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the Lord, “O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.” (vss 13,14)
The captain ordered Jonah to pray to his God for their lives (v.6). But the only prayer offered aboard the ship was offered by the crew. (v.14)

5.              Jonah needed to experience “Salvation comes from the Lord” before he could offer it to the Ninevites.  True

This conclusion, found in the last line of his prayer comes after Jonah personally experienced salvation three times:  from impending shipwreck, from drowning and from being digested.

6.              Jonah ran “from” God and then “to” God but as a missionary/ as a witness God needed Jonah to do something even more challenging.  What preposition would describe that challenge?  How is it different from the other two prepositions?

Jonah was the first missionary called to “go” and he made some serious mistakes.  Jonah eventually found solace by running “to” God but only after he had run “from” God both geographically and from the people to whom he had been called to minister.  God never expected Jonah to do the work by himself!  God invited Jonah to participate “with” Him is revealing God’s grace to the people of Nineveh even if at the time they were the enemy of Israel.

The mission hardened prophet struggled with his assignment from God.  To help him understand God used three things from nature to reach him.
1.              A castor bean plant – brought shade
2.              A caterpillar that attacked the plant to take away the blessing of the shade.
3.              A scorching east wind that nearly caused Jonah to faint from the heat.

These were measures of discipline not measures of punishment.  They were meant to reveal that God loves all and empathizes with them in their suffering whether it be pagan Ninevites or a chosen people who made more than their share of mistakes.

I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (4:2)
This is the very same theme found in Ex. 32-34.   Jonah quotes God’s own declaration of Himself after sparing those who made the golden calf and when He gave them once again the 10 Commandments on a new tablet of stone. 

Conclusion

It matters not whether they be the “chosen voices” for God or the pagan idolaters outside the circles of the church.  All are at the mercy of God who is compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  The great need is for a people to walk “with” God as that message is proclaimed in both word and life.