Daily Archives: May 21, 2013

Cornelius Wades In

CORNELIUS WADES IN

“Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago at about this time, mid-afternoon, I was home praying. Suddenly there was a man in front of me, flooding the room with light. He said, ‘Cornelius, your daily prayers and neighbourly acts have brought you to God’s attention. I want you to send to Joppa to get Simon, the one they call Peter. He’s staying with Simon the Tanner down by the sea.’

“‘So I did it — I sent for you. And you’ve been good enough to come. And now we’re all here in God’s presence, ready to listen to whatever the Master put in your heart to tell us.'” Acts 10:30-33 (The Message).

Finally! Cornelius’ explanation put the last piece of the puzzle in place. Peter had his story and Cornelius had his; the two stories blended into one, and the whole thing began to make sense. God was at it again, moving on people to reveal Himself to a hungry heart.

Cornelius made no reference to Peter’s scruples. He did not apologise for overriding Peter’s inhibitions. It was not an issue to him and he would not make Peter’s issues his own.

What was it that had drawn God’s attention to this ex-pagan Roman soldier? Was God really interested in non-Jews? Idolatry was abhorrent to Him and this man had been born and brought up to worship idols, but at some stage in his adult life he had become disillusioned with his religion and attracted to the Jewish faith.

The Jews worshipped only one God, an unseen spirit being whom they said was the creator of heaven and earth. Their Holy Book told stories of His power and His interaction with people, including accounts of miracles that showed His love for His people.

Cornelius had never known the love of a god. The Roman and Greek gods were evil, vengeful and capricious. Their worshippers had their time cut out either trying to get their attention or appeasing their anger. They were always demanding and never giving — so unlike the God of Israel who was constantly doing things for His people.

Cornelius had been drawn towards this religion, and the outcome was that he had absorbed its lifestyle and requirements — prayer and generosity had become his way of life. Prayer meant reciting psalms and set passages of Scripture at specific times of the day. Consequently he was laying down a foundation of God’s word in his heart.

Recognising and meeting the needs of people around him, as required by the teachings of the Torah, the five books of Moses, had fostered the kind of generosity that pleased God, breaking his natural human bent towards selfishness and greed and moving him beyond the confines of his own needs and the needs of his family. These were the things that indicated his seriousness towards God.

God responded by setting up a meeting with him through the human agency of His servant Peter. Where supernatural visions and angelic visits were necessary, they happened, to bring the two parties together, Peter with his knowledge and experience of Jesus and Cornelius with his hunger to know the truth.

What an example of God’s personal and intimate involvement with us. He is not indifferent to our unspoken longings. He will never ignore even the faintest cry for Him or the slightest move towards Him. It is His will that everyone should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Unless He intervenes and draws us, we cannot know Him but He intervenes to move heaven and earth so that we will encounter Him and experience the truth.

Peter had every reason, having heard Cornelius’ side of the story, to believe that this meeting was of God and to launch into an explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ life and death so that Cornelius and his household and friends could have an opportunity to believe and receive the truth. He was free to fellowship with Cornelius in his home because God said it was okay.

Peter Wades In

PETER WADES IN

“Talking things over, they went into the house where Cornelius introduced Peter to everyone who had come. Peter addressed them. ‘You know — I’m sure that this is highly irregular. Jews just don’t do this — visit and relax with people of another race. But God has just shown me that no race is better than another race. So the minute I was sent for, I came, no questions asked. I’d like to know why you sent for me.'” Acts 10:27-29 (The Message).

All is about to be revealed! God’s “conspiracy” is about to be blown open!

It seems that unusual events accompanied the launch of the gospel into each new race group. Pentecost with its high drama set the whole thing going — wind, fire, unlearned languages and supernatural joy exploded in the city of Jerusalem, sweeping three thousand new believers into the kingdom of God.

Dramatic healings, followed by persecution and even the sudden and mysterious deaths of Ananias and Sapphira led to the explosive growth of the church, not the sort of events that would naturally attract new members. However, the church stayed within the confines of the Jewish race until two supernatural events happened that led the church to spill out of its confining racial prejudices into Africa and into the Gentile world.

Angelic intervention sent Philip to intercept a high-ranking Ethiopian official on his way home from worshipping in Jerusalem, resulting in a new convert taking the message of Jesus back to the royal court in Ethiopia. Now another supernatural intervention of God sends Peter into the home of a Roman soldier in response to his search to know the true God.

Peter, to his credit, responded promptly to the vision and to the subsequent whispering of the Holy Spirit to reassure him that he was not having a nightmare after a heavy meal! His initial reluctance to “kill and eat” was overridden by God’s insistence that he drop his inhibitions and launch into the next phase of his missionary calling with the full confidence of God’s command,

For the first time ever in his life, Peter entered a Gentile home without feeling the abhorrence and false guilt of his upbringing. He must have felt much lighter in his spirit, knowing that it was God who had set him free from this ensnaring lie that had bound his conscience since childhood. Another chain had fallen off on his personal journey to freedom.

Everyone is on a journey to somewhere depending on the destination to which our choices take us. There are only two possible destinies — the realm of perfect freedom that follows obedience to the voice of God or the ultimate terrible eternal imprisonment to the foolish choices we keep making in this life.

God’s passionate desire is for His children to be free — not from the restrictions and requirements people put on us, good or bad, but from the inner slave-drivers we acquire on our journey through our choices and responses.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (NIV).

There is only one source of true freedom. “To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,'” John 8:31-32 (NIV).

Connecting the Dots

CONNECTING THE DOTS

“As Peter puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant, the men sent by Cornelius showed up at Simon’s front door. They called in asking if there was a Simon, also called Peter, staying there. Peter, lost in thought, didn’t hear them so the Spirit whispered to him, ‘Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.’

“Peter went down and said to the men, ‘I think I’m the man you’re looking for. What’s up?’

“They said, ‘Captain Cornelius, a God-fearing man well-known for his fair play — ask any Jews in this part of the country — was commanded by a holy angel to get you and bring you to his house so he could hear what you have to say.’ Peter invited them in and made them feel at home.” Acts 10:17-23 (The Message).

What a story! Three worlds coming together, Jewish Peter’s prejudice giving way to Roman Cornelius’ request through the intervention of God’s supernatural unseen influence! There must be millions of untold stories like this one where God’s world has come close to the world of people who cry out to Him in their need.

This was not only a significant event for the early church — God actively intervening to ensure that His followers take the message of Jesus out of the confines of the Jewish nation to a world that was waiting for a revelation of the truth. It was also a life-changing encounter for Cornelius with the living God which would transform him and his household.

Familiarity with the story can so easily dull the edge of this drama. Peter, born and bred in the cradle of Judaism, was confronted with a situation which would shake him to the core. Not only did he have a deep-seated prejudice against Gentiles in general, a generations-old attitude passed down from his forefathers, but he also had a particular hatred for Romans and especially Roman soldiers.

Were they not the ones who had inflicted so much suffering on his people? They were prisoners in their own land and subject to the capricious cruelty of their oppressors. His dream of deliverance had been dashed when Jesus died, having done nothing to fulfil his expectation of a new order of freedom in his land. No Roman soldier was an individual to him. They were all lumped together as nameless and faceless enemies.

Now he was faced with a nightmare of a vision — an instruction from God — “Satisfy your hunger by eating an unclean creature!” How could he, Peter, a Jew, do a thing like that, and, of all things, because God told him to do it?

Then a group of Romans arrived and asked him to accompany them to a Roman soldier’s home! What was the world coming to? It was to Peter’s credit that he both welcomed his visitors into his host’s home and was willing to go with them to Caesarea, realising that his vision and their visit were tied together into an instruction from God.

It takes faith and courage to connect the dots! God’s leading does not always come in unmistakeable instructions. We are not mindless robots. This is part of what it means to know God and to walk in the Spirit. We learn, on this journey with Jesus, to recognise His voice and to know His ways.

David prayed a significant prayer, one which I have prayed over the course of five years, which has been answered over and over in amazing ways.

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.” Psalm 86:11 (NIV).

No other prayer has affected my life as much as this desire, planted in my heart by the Holy Spirit, to know God’s ways. It is the way of access to the heart of the Father.

Crazy Mixed-up Guy

CRAZY MIXED UP GUY

“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 worshipping him! Peter pulled him up and said, ‘None of that — I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.'” Acts 10:23-26 (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 worshipped 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 supersaint. 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 hostiliy, 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).