“The next morning he got up and went with them. Some of his friends from Joppa went along. A day later they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had his relatives and close friends waiting with him. The minute Peter came through the door, Cornelius was up on his feet greeting him — and then down on his face worshiping him! Peter pulled him up and said, ‘None of that — I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.'” Acts 10:23b-26 (The Message).

Cornelius had a lot to learn. His pagan background played havoc with his understanding of the relationship between the natural world and God’s realm of the spirit. In spite of his conversion to Judaism, he had obviously brought with him his belief system of spirits that inhabited nature and used natural phenomena to deal with humans. Not that he still worshiped idols but that he had not completely dissociated himself from his old religious system.

He had not yet realised that human beings are not God. He was so wound up over the angelic visit that he lumped Peter together with the angel as some sort of supernatural being to be worshipped, especially since it seemed that Peter was somehow part of this supernatural realm he had glimpsed. Peter had to pull him up short. ‘No, Cornelius, I’m not in the same category as God.’

Peter was also on a learning curve. He had his own misunderstandings to contend with, not pagan beliefs but religious prejudices and scruples to unlearn. It must have taken a serious decision on his part as well as careful explanation to convince his Jewish companions that this was a God-thing and not his own idea. They must surely have been convinced, not only by Peter’s account of his vision, but of the timing of the arrival of the men from Caesarea.

Cornelius’ expectation spilled over onto family and friends. He was not in this for himself alone. While he was awaiting Peter’s arrival — and he had no guarantee that Peter would come; after all, he, Cornelius was a hated Roman soldier — he got the whole neighbourhood together to share in this message he was anticipating from Peter.

The fact that Peter actually came, together with a contingent of Jewish believers from Joppa, must have overwhelmed Cornelius. Race and prejudice forgotten, he greeted Peter like a brother and Peter reciprocated even before Cornelius had experienced the joy of true Christian brotherhood. Did he fall on his knees, not to worship Peter as God but to honour him as someone greater than himself?

Peter would not accept that kind of obeisance. He was no super saint. He refused to be elevated above Cornelius, not even as an apostle. He made it clear to this muddled-thinking Roman that he was just Peter with a message from Jesus.

Throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus He made one thing clear — all people stand on level ground before the Father. God has no time for high-minded conceit. We are dead wrong if think that we are better than anyone else, especially on the grounds of human position or achievement. Jesus said, ‘Don’t take or accept titles.’ He resisted people who expected preferential treatment for any reason whatever.

Peter had learned that lesson well. He had been part of the squabbling that went on among the disciples when they were vying for positions in the kingdom of God. Time and again he heard Jesus’ rebuke and His instruction on true greatness. The Spirit of God in him was nurturing His fruit in Peter — among the nine fruit being humility.

With the ground cleared of prejudice and misunderstanding, both parties were ready to focus on the message Peter had to give — the message of Jesus who brings not only reconciliation to God but reconciliation to one another to restore man to man in the family of God.

“For He is our peace, who has made the two one and destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.” Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV).

Luella Campbell

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