Use this free youth ministry Bible study to teach your the story of Peter and Cornelius to the teenager groups at your church. This is a perfect Sunday School lesson from Acts 10:1-33 for High School and Middle School Students.
Bible Lesson focus: This lesson focuses on Peter’s revelation that the Gospel was meant for all people, not just the Jews. In this day and age, of course, teens might not encounter “unclean meat” or questions about Jewish tradition. But this story provides a great way to emphasize the Gospel. We are not saved by what we do or who we were born to, but by the blood of Jesus. The story of Peter and Cornelius also reminds us that God wants us to share the love of Jesus with others, no matter who they are. Students will be encouraged to love and honor others and boldly live out faith.
The Good News is for Everyone! Youth Lesson Suggestions: Peter and Cornelius
Scripture Passage: Acts 10:1-33
Target Audience: 6th-12th Grade Middle School and High School Youth Ministry
Teaching Materials Needed: M&Ms, stuffed animals, blankets, hankies, animal toys, pictures of people from various nations, pictures of various foods, Bibles.
Youth Pastor Teaching Tips: Teens are very focused on who is in the right “groups” or “clicks” in their peer groups. Cornelius was an outsider, but God showed Peter that everyone can be accepted and become friends through the power of Jesus Christ.
Youth Ministry Game Activities to Introduce Teenagers to the Bible Lesson on Peter and Cornelius
Lesson Opening: The lesson focuses on how all people are the same in God’s eyes, and everyone needs love and the good news of the Gospel. Start off with a fun opening game activity that gets teens energized and thinking. You might also incorporate one or two of these within the context of sharing the story, depending on how you read or tell it.
- This might seem geared more towards younger students, but middle schoolers will likely enjoy it, too. Give each student a few M&Ms of varied colors. Ask teens which one tastes the best, and invite them to sample a few of each color. Obviously, they all taste the same, because they have the same thing inside. In this lesson, we’ll recall how this is how people are. We look different, but we are all people and all have similar needs.
- Review stories of missionaries in other countries. Discuss the importance of our call to tell others about Christ. Who needs to hear this news most? All people need the hope of the Gospel!
- “Clean or unclean”? Look at several pictures (or actual examples) of different foods, some healthy and others more in the “junk” category. Have students identify which are which. Explain that, unless you have allergies, no food is inherently “bad”, even though we should try to make healthful choices. In the days Jesus was alive, there were certain foods Jews weren’t supposed to eat at all, for reasons God gave them. In this story, God told Peter that all foods were okay to eat, which also meant that all people needed to hear about Jesus (not just Jews).
- Animal Toss: in honor of the animals falling in the vision of this story, have a little fun with stuffed animals! Divide the student group into two “teams” and have them toss and catch stuffed animals with blankets or sheets.
Describe the background of the story a little. This takes place in the book of Acts, which details how the first Christians told other people about Jesus and spread the church mission to other countries. These people faced a lot of tough challenges, but God was with them and the Holy Spirit directed their ways.
One of the first leaders in the church was Peter (the same disciple who denied Jesus three times and was later restored). In this story, Peter learned that God wanted everyone to hear the good news of the Gospel. Before that, people thought the message was only for Jews, but because of Christ’s life and death, ALL people are chosen. And we can eat bacon cheeseburgers!
*Note: it may be helpful to explain what the term “Gentile” means (someone who is not a Jew). Since we aren’t Jewish, we are all Gentiles, so this story is for us!
Ask: What are some challenges that you might face? Why do you think God lets us face challenges?
Bible Lesson: The passage from Acts consists of a few parts. It is not too lengthy or complex, though, that students will have any trouble reading it in turn. We love youth group Bible lessons that are fun to act out, or at least to involve interactive elements (as when the sheet of animals is seen). If students are interested, assign parts for them to act in a sense, and feed them lines.
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. -Acts 10:1-8
The first scene of this story happens in a place called Caesarea. Explain the significance of who Cornelius was. In those days, Romans and Jews did not get along. Roman soldiers were seen as the enemy and oppressors. This man was in charge of a lot of Roman soldiers, but he also believed in God and wanted to help people. This man received a special vision from an angel, who told him to send for Peter. Keep in mind that Cornelius had no idea who Peter was or why he should send for him, but he obeyed what God told him.
*Note: it might be helpful to display a map for students, showing where Caesarea and Joppa were, and how the journey might have gone.
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. -Acts 10:9-16
Ask: What do you do when you get hungry? Do you get impatient when it’s taking a long time for a meal to cook?
In this part of the story, something seemingly strange takes place. Peter went up on the roof to pray, while he was waiting for a meal to be prepared. While he was praying, he had a vision of animals coming down to him. These animals would have been things not normally allowed for Jews to consume. Peter knew he wasn’t supposed to eat such things, but a voice in this vision told him to eat them. Three times in a row Peter had this vision! Maybe he thought he was dreaming, but after the same thing happened three times, he probably realized something important was going on. (Optional: toss more stuffed animals around!)
Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” -Acts 10:17-29
Ask: What do you think you would do if some strange people appeared on your doorstep asking you to come with them? How did Peter know this was what God wanted, or that it was even safe?
Be sure to note what God is doing in this. Cornelius wasn’t chosen because he was good or did special things. He did love and fear God, and was thrilled to receive the message of salvation. However, the importance of these events is how God used them to reveal that all people needed to hear the Gospel. It was not just for a few specially chosen people, but for everyone.
And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” -Acts 10:30-33
After this, Peter explained to Cornelius who Jesus was and what He came to Earth to do. Cornelius and those who were with him believed in this good news, and they were baptized right away. Peter and his friends realized that God wanted everyone to come to faith, and that He wanted to use them to spread Christianity to other people in other places.
Ask: Do you ever have opportunities to tell others about Jesus? How is it sometimes possible to share the Gospel without even using words?
If time allows, continue with the rest of Acts 10 (possibly even 11), where it becomes very clear that the Holy Spirit came for all people, and that God was spreading Christianity to Gentiles as well as Jews. This was not a popular thing for the Jewish leaders to hear or understand, which led to difficulty for the apostles. But that’s another story…Peter was bold to explain how He came to be hanging out with a Centurion, and why it was God’s will that all would come to know and understand Him.
Group Discussion and Review Activities: Review with some questions connected to the story:
- Why did Peter have a vision of animals?
- Who was Cornelius? How did he know to send for Peter?
- What does this story have to do with us?
- Are there any people that you think are “too far” to come to God?
- When do you have opportunity to share your faith and knowledge of Christ?
Close the group discussion time with prayer, thanking God for using us to spread His good news throughout the world. Ask God for help in sharing His love with all people.