The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2016 issue of Explore the Bible: Adults. Explore the Bible is a book-by-book group Bible study that encourages participants to let the Word dwell in them and challenges them to live it out in their own context. Preview one month free at lifeway.com/ExploreTheBible.
The Great Wall of China originally was comprised of a series of fortified walls built over centuries of time to protect China’s northern borders. Later rulers joined the separate walls together and made them even bigger and stronger. Archaeological surveyors have estimated that the total length of all the combined walls spanned more than 13,000 miles. While such walls historically were constructed for defensive purposes, they often had a secondary, unintended consequence. They contributed to the cultural isolation of people groups behind the walls.
Walls of separation and isolation aren’t always physical structures. Language, religion, skin color, education, and social standing can also become barriers that isolate people according to their preferences and prejudices. These differences can create invisible but real barriers that keep people from interacting. Such walls also can be more difficult to tear down than physical structures like the Great Wall of China.
Acts 10 focuses on God’s helping Peter overcome a barrier to his witness concerning the gospel. It challenges us today as well to tear down any walls that hinder our acceptance of other believers or our willingness to share the gospel with people from different cultures and backgrounds. The passage describes the situation of Cornelius, a devoutly religious, Gentile centurion living in Caesarea. In a time of prayer, Cornelius had a vision in which an angel of God instructed him to send to Joppa for Peter (10:1-8).
Meanwhile, Peter also received a vision during a time of prayer. In his vision, Peter was confronted three times with a large sheet containing all types of creatures. He was instructed to kill and eat whatever he desired (10:9-16). The meaning of his vision became clear to Peter as he went to Cornelius’s house and heard Cornelius’s testimony regarding the angel’s instructions to fetch the apostle. Peter was to explain the gospel to them (10:17-43). As Peter preached, the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and the others gathered in his house. Peter then instructed the new believers to be baptized (10:44-48).
Luke concluded this account with Peter’s acceptance of Cornelius’s invitation to stay with him for several more days (10:48). The apostle would have the opportunity to put into practice the lessons he learned from the vision in Joppa. Peter would likely experience dining with Gentiles and eating food he had never eaten when bound by the restrictions of Mosaic law.
The modern readers of this story may not immediately see the implications for their own lives. Most of us reading the account are Gentiles believers who have never experienced the barriers that existed between first-century Jewish and Gentile believers. The walls that exist today may be different, but they are nonetheless real. These walls might be based on race, education, social position, or cultural background. Christians who are not aware of God’s desire to reach all peoples may use these differences as reasons not to share the gospel with those who differ from them. Christians may also use these differences as excuses not to worship, fellowship, or cooperate with other believers who differ from them. We need to understand that the lesson taught to Peter is intended to correct all Christians who would maintain walls that prevent sharing the gospel. Instead, we should embrace all genuine believers in Christ as brothers and sisters.
What walls exist between you and others that prevent your sharing the gospel or embracing other believers in Christ in full fellowship?
Excerpted from Explore the Bible: Acts 1–12, Vance H. Pitman © 2015 Lifeway Press. Used by permission.