March 31st: “Anyone?”

After being surprised by the scope of God’s mercy, Peter recaps the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

This Week’s Passage: Acts 10:34-43

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for Resurrection Sunday in Easter

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

34 Peter had thought that only Jews could be baptized, but now has come to understand that God’s circle is wider than his. Whom do we seek to exclude from God’s circle?

35 Salvation by works?

36 The “message” is not Jesus Christ, but is sent through him.

37 The expansion of the Gospel starting in Galilee: John’s baptism was one of repentance for the Kingdom of God is near.

38 a. God anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit is a matter of faith.

b. “oppressed by the devil” — Is Peter preaching in the vernacular which expects a battle between good and evil?

c. “God was with him” — Why not he was God as in John’s Gospel?

39 Why not say nailed him to a tree? Or is this a euphemism for crucifixion as well as picking up the scriptural admonition against hanging on a tree?

40 God “caused him to appear”.

41 Proof that he was risen bodily, at least among the believers.

42 Jesus is ordained as judge by God. Peter appears to be testifying that Jesus is a prophet rather than the Son of God.

43 Consistency with earlier Scripture.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Peter has been sent for by Corneilus, a Gentile. Corneilus has seen a vision while in prayer that he should see Peter, and Peter has seen a vision that it is God who decides who is clean.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

1 Corinthians 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

Jews shunned eating with Gentiles (offered to idols); even visiting a Gentile household would cause spiritual uncleanness.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

Passage begins with Peter opening his mouth and ends with people speaking in tongues.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Chapter 10 is a well structured story: Begins with a centurion, an outsider of the community, whose worship was answered through an angel. Paralleled with Peter praying and receiving a vision. The vision is explained through the acceptance of Cornelius by the Holy Spirit.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

In the larger story Cornelius does not question why he invites Peter or what he expects when Peter begins to speak. Thus they are much like a congregation sitting waiting for the preacher to speak. In the end the congregation becomes the object lesson for the preacher and his associates.

Peter is like the preacher who visits the hospital on the request of family, and experiences a miracle!

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: This is the kernel of a much larger passage about the wideness of God’s desire for salvation. It matters not who we think should/will be saved (by God), but rather that we need to be about confirming with baptism whom God has already chosen.
  • Emotional Center: God breaking forth in our midst!

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Peter associates with Gentiles setting up the conflict in chapter 11 about future ministry with the Gentiles.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts) notes two errors in his sermon to Cornelius: 1) that “anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” is otherwise unsupported in Scripture; and 2) that Jesus was sent to Israel does not support ministry with Gentiles.

Robert W. Wall (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Acts of the Apostles”) notes the parallel with the story of Jonah, the prophet also sent from Joppa to preach to people he was reluctant to meet. Jonah needed three days in the belly of the great fish before he would preach to the Ninevites. Peter (aka Simon bar Jonah) took three auditions from God. Jonah’s preaching resulted in the repentance of the Ninevites. Peter’s preaching resulted in the conversion of all of Cornelius’s household and his friends.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

You know the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Everyone who trusts him, receives forgiveness.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Experience Peter’s surprise with God’s mercy.

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