This series of posts has been looking at the story recorded in Acts Chapters Ten and Eleven of Cornelius (a Righteous Gentile), Peter (a devout Jewish Believer in Jesus), and the Holy Spirit Who brought the two together. In the first post I shared some questions I found answered in this account. Below find a bit of what I discovered for each question. If you had other questions to which you found answers in this story, I’d love to know both the question and your finding! Here’s mine:
1. Legalism versus Obedience to God: When God sets up guidelines are they set in stone, or does He sometimes make exception to His own rules?
When it comes to religious diversity or denominational differences, there is not likely a gap greater than that between the Jewish people and the Gentiles. God had told His Chosen People, the Jews, to maintain the separation in order that they not go off worshipping false gods and not the One True Almighty God. This story with the Gentile Cornelius and the Jew Peter brings the one thread that connects the two men to light… the worship of the very same God and him alone, in the midst of a hedonistic world of worshipping many different gods.
The Jewish people had received a lot of commands from the Lord and added even more rules. One thing they were never to do is associate, in any way, with someone who was not Jewish. No eating together and no entering the home of someone who was not Jewish. To do so would defile them. Don’t bother to accept any food from them, because there were rules about how to prepare the food and what foods the people could eat. No, the best thing was to stay clear of people who were not Jewish. These folks were called Gentiles.
While that may seem impolite and separatist to you, sadly, we see the same thing within the Body of Christ today, don’t we? If we aren’t a part of a certain denomination or if we are a Catholic Christian and not a Protestant Christian… our opinions and experiences are not taken seriously since we are not on the inside. This story of Peter and Cornelius shows us what is important to God and it’s not a label.
God saw the heart of Cornelius. Cornelius wanted to have God in his life and faithfully worshipped God as best he knew how… in fact; Cornelius and his whole family were worshipping God. God didn’t look at them and say, “Oh, too bad you were born Gentiles; you would have made such good Jews.” No, God looked at their hearts and sent His Holy Spirit to respond to their heart’s cry to know God more!
God instructed Peter to go to Cornelius’ house, not to stay away from it. Such a great example of God not being a legalist. The rule of exclusion was given so that the Chosen People would fellowship with those who worshipped Yahweh. If anyone not Jewish was already doing that but didn’t’ know anything about the God they were worshipping, God was eager to send one of His servants… Peter in this case… to help them learn about the God they had been worshipping. God didn’t care about their label; He cared about their heart.
2. Exact order of events: does one have to accept the Lord as his personal Savior, undergo baptism with water before being baptized with the Holy Spirit?
Normally, this is the order of events; but Cornelius’ story very clearly shows us how God sees things and what God uses as an indicator of when to do what.
I wonder if God didn’t do it this way to prove to Peter and his delegation of Believers that God, Himself, had already accepted Cornelius and his family as Believers so that Peter would also? It worked if that was His plan. I love that God isn’t so hard and fast about things like this and that He made the effort to include this account for all of us to read many years later. Helps us put things in perspective, I think.
3. Conflict and Confrontation: what must a Believer do when confronted with conflict in the rules?
Peter gives us a great example of obedience and flexibility…obedience to God and flexibility to what he had been taught, as well as to what his Jewish friends and leaders say. He’s willing to stand for what he believes, even in the face of confrontation with the other leaders.
Peter’s example can be a standard for many such issues where conflict arises amongst Believers and newbies to the Fold. We need to be willing to let God be the One in control.
4. Righteous Non-religious People: Is it possible that people can worship God who have never been told about Him?
While God certainly does want His children to share their faith with those who have not heard, Cornelius’ story puts the point clearly… God is in control and will respond to prayer from someone whose heart is truly seeking God and not just His provisions. Many times in the New Testament we read of folks who have been worshipping God and then one of the Believers comes to teach them about the God they had been worshipping. God has put a “God-sized hole” in our hearts and only He can fill it. Sometimes folks sense that and go in search of the One to fill it. No matter what god is worshipped, only the One Who made us can fill that hole. It will remain empty until He is asked to fill it!
5. Timing: Does obedience mean responding right away?
One thing I love about Cornelius’ story is the timing. God’s timing was perfect and the response of both Peter and Cornelius made the whole event move like clockwork. Once God had spoken to them, they responded immediately. No checking with a committee to take it under advisement. No asking for a few days to think about it. Both men responded right away… Cornelius in sending for Peter and Peter in accepting he would go with the men. The departure time being the next morning reflects more the distance they had to travel than resistance. Peter was ready to go and treated the men from Cornelius with respect. Hospitality was offered to them immediately. One of my teachers used to say, “To obey slowly, is not to obey at all.”
6. Can the God of the entire Universe really know where I am, and with whom, at any given moment?
Unequivocally, the answer is “Yes!” His watchful eyes are always upon His kids. God knew that Cornelius was praying in Caesarea that afternoon. God knew that Peter was not at home but had traveled to the seashore and was staying in the home of a tanner who lived by the shore. God knew that tanner was named Simon. God knew that Peter was also named Simon, and used both of these names when instructing Cornelius to go see Peter. He told Cornelius where he could find Peter. God knew Peter wouldn’t readily go with Gentile men to the home of a Gentile, so God gave Peter what he needed to know it was God’s will. God knew Peter was on the roof, praying, while his tummy waited for the meal being prepared. God brought the three men from Cornelius to the gate at exactly the right time as He had just told Peter to go with the men who were there knocking on the gate, looking for him.
God has the whole picture and knows all there is to know about us… AND, the most wonderful truth, knowing all of this, God still loves us with His God-sized loving arms and heart!
****If you meet a veteran this weekend, shake his or her hand and give a big “Thank you!” They’re all heroes to America!