I love the Acts 10:1-23 story of Peter and Cornelius. The story holds important missional lessons. Cornelius is a Roman Centurion stationed at Caesarea. Peter (Jesus’ disciple become apostle), is staying in the Mediterranean seacoast town of Joppa 35 miles (60 km) to the south. During a time of prayer, a God-sent angel tells Cornelius to send men to Joppa to find Peter. While that’s happening, God tills the soil of Peter’s heart with a thrice repeated vision of a sheet holding a rogue’s gallery of clean and unclean animals. A voice says to hungry Peter, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter refuses on biblical grounds but is chastened with the words, “Do not call anything impure that God has made pure.” This story is full to overflowing with lessons for anyone who wants to be engaged in mission in a rapidly changing world.
Here are 7 important missional lessons from Acts 10:1-23:
Lesson 1: Begin With Prayer
The Acts 10 mission-focused story begins with prayer. Cornelius is in prayer when the angel visits. Peter is in prayer when the vision comes. Before we begin imagining new missional possibilities, we must start praying. Prayer moves the mighty hand of God.
Lesson 2: Look for Where God is Working
Peter had no idea God was at work among the Gentiles. His focus was solely on a faith family with Jewish roots. What he would discover is that God was already at work before Peter was asked to engage in that work. Missions is God’s work. Look for what he is doing, then join him in his work.
Lesson 3: Be Willing to be Edgy
Peter is hanging out in Joppa at the home of Simon the tanner. Joppa was an edgy town located in Israel but connected to a larger world. Simon the tanner was edgy as he lived on the fringes of Judaism due to his blood-soaked work. Peter is hanging out in an edgy place with edgy people. Missional people do that.
Lesson 4: Consider New Ways of Seeing and Believing
The voice tells Peter to kill and eat. Old Testament dietary laws said “no” so Peter says “no.” Missions demands being open to new ways of seeing and believing. None of this was immediately clear to Peter but he was willing to consider it. He was firm but not rigid. What is God asking you to ponder?
Lesson 5: Look for Ordinary Things
It’s interesting that the creepy crawly vision started when Peter became hungry. This great missional move started with a growling stomach. Sometimes churches work way too hard at finding the next missional endeavor when that investment can be found in everyday things that already surround us.
Lesson 6: Listen for Repeated Knocking
The vision of the sheet didn’t happen once, it happened three times. Look for what God keeps bringing back. What opportunities keep presenting themselves to you? What challenges keep tugging at your heart? What people does God keep putting in your path? God will always persist when he has a plan.
Lesson 7: Begin with Hospitality
Before Peter shares his faith, he opens his heart and home. Breaking with church protocol, Peter invites Cornelius’ servants and soldier to be his guest. The church’s first missional move is hospitality. No matter their story, everyone should find warm acceptance among God’s people. Remember this, our role is to love, God’s role is to change.