This is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
GOT A BACKSTORY?
We all have one. There’s no denying it, you and me, the world, we all have a backstory.
A backstory is a person’s past that includes characters good and bad, events, places and dates. When you understand a person’s backstory, you can then better understand why someone does what they do, why they feel the way they do about themselves and why their lives are headed in a particular direction.
What I want you to do is to look at the main text that we discussed on Sunday and identify the major elements of Peter and Cornelius’s backstory. Work through each of their stories and, by using what we talked about on Sunday, discuss their backstory. I have included some of my notes to help you along. I would suggest reading the text as a group and then looking at each character in detail.
TEXT: Acts 10
The Gentile Commander of 100 men in the Roman army. Military service was the preferred occupation, and only roughly half of those who enlisted survived the twenty years of service. Recruits had all sworn oaths of allegiance to the divine emperor.
• Place: Caesarea was predominantly a gentile city.
• Tension: The greatest point of tension in this story is seen when Cornelius is baptized. Herod the Great had renamed Strato’s Tower “Caesarea” in honor of the emperor. Augustus Caesar had given the city called Caesarea Phillipi to Herod the Great as a reward for his loyalty. Herod then erected a magnificent temple of white stone, where citizens could worship their emperor-god, Augustus. After the death of Herod the Great, his son, Philip, beautified the city and made it his capital. Centurions who worked for the Roman Empire worshipped the emperor – he was considered divine. History tells us that Christianity would eventually be outlawed because Christians insisted that Jesus, not the emperor, was their king. Cornelius had sworn an oath of allegiance to this divine emperor. But now things had changed.
• Major lessons learned: On Sunday I talked about the courage, fear, humility and submission that both Cornelius and Peter would have to deal with. Where do you see that in both these stories? What are the major takeaways for both characters?
A Jewish disciple of Christ’s, famous for not knowing how to swim and denying Christ.
• Place: Joppa – a predominately Jewish city
• Tension: Note Peter’s dream, his response, how many times the voice spoke to Peter. How does this represent tension in Peter’s life? Note in Acts 11:1-18 how Peter has to explain his actions to the church leaders.
• Major lessons learned: On Sunday, I talked about the courage, fear, humility and submission that both Cornelius and Peter would have to deal with. Where do you see that in both these stories? What are the major takeaways for both characters?
While this chapter is primarily about the God Who does not show favouritism, we also see a profound lesson about baptism.
BIG IDEA: Baptism’s backstory is about a God at work, and hearts that are yielding to Him.
People who are baptized talk about a place where they encountered God, the characters that influenced them, the tension, walk of obedience, and the act of surrender. Have you ever been baptized as a testimony of your backstory?
The term “to be baptized into the name of Christ “(Acts 8:16; 19:5) is probably drawn from the commercial world, where “into the name of” was used in transactions (as today we write cheques “to the name of”). So, “to be baptized in/into the name of” someone was to allow that person to be over him, to become his disciple (1 Cor. 1:12–13).
Cornelius was baptized in Caesarea, the very place that was named after the emperor and was a place of emperor worship. Don’t miss the contrast and the tension of this scene in the story.
Now that you have filled in some of the backstory of Cornelius and Peter, take some time to talk about your own backstory with the group. Specifically talk about the backstory that lead you to Christ and that, perhaps, lead you to your baptism. Use the outline of place, characters, tension and major lessons learned to outline how you might share.
Take some time to pray for each other. Backstories will always clue us in to ways to pray for each other.
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