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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cornelius, Peter, and the Holy Spirit

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is Cornelius, Peter, and the Holy Spirit, found in Acts Chapters Ten and Eleven. This account sheds light on a number of questions. Here are a few I’ve identified:

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?

2.    Exact order of events: Does one have to “pray the sinner’s prayer”, accept Jesus as his personal Savior, and undergo baptism with water before being baptized with the Holy Spirit?

3.    Conflict and Confrontation: What must a Believer do when confronted with conflict in the rules?

4.    Righteous Non-religious People: Is it possible that people can worship God who have never been told about Him?

5.    Timing: Does obedience mean responding right away?

6.    Can the God of the entire Universe really know where I am, and with whom, at any given moment?

You may find other questions answered as we work our way through the story. If you do, please let me know!

Chapter Ten opens with an explanation of just who Cornelius is. Cornelius was a military man. Though he had no formal religious affiliation, Cornelius and his whole household worshipped God. He practiced his worship both in his faithful praying and in his giving to the poor.

Versus 1 and 2: At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.

Though Cornelius had no formal training in what to do, somehow he knew to do what was right in God’s eyes. It is likely that God, Himself, instructed Cornelius, who then instructed his family, as this was the custom.

Cornelius didn’t just ask the Lord’s blessing over food he was about to eat or say his prayers before he slept each night, Cornelius prayed often throughout the day. God heard the longing of Cornelius’ heart to know God more and responded. One afternoon, God’s answer came in the form of an angelic visitation.

God gave Cornelius instruction to send for Peter, told him exactly where to find Peter, and delivered the message that Peter would share something important with his family. In fact, his entire household should be ready to receive the message, not just Cornelius, the military commander.

Verses 3-6: One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

The two servants Cornelius chose were likely among those who had responded to instruction on worshipping God. They would accompany his military underling, also a devout worshipper, on the trip to Joppa for Peter. Cornelius didn’t act like an employer or that he was in any way superior to the men. Cornelius told the men exactly what had happened, and all were excited to see what God was doing. Cornelius’ humility was impressive and, no doubt, noted by God.

Verses 7- 8: When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

Cornelius didn’t shake off the visitation or argue over its plausibility. I mean, that was a Jewish family in Joppa and, well, everyone had heard of Peter, a devout Jew. No way would Peter step foot in Cornelius’ house. Cornelius might have thought that must be something springing up from too much spice in my lunch. We don’t know what Cornelius was thinking but only what he did. No, Cornelius didn’t do what most of us would do, finding excuses not to respond to something we couldn’t understand. Cornelius waited only as long as it took for the angel to leave to obey.

Verses 7-8:  When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

And, Peter? What was happening in Joppa while this was going on in Caesarea? Would the men be able to find peter there, before he moved on to another city?  

****Cornelius, Peter, and the Holy Spirit, Scene 2… Next Post

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