Thursday, February 2, 2012

February 2 - Cornelius, Centurion, Recipient of Visions, First Gentile Convert

In Caesarea was a man name Cornelius. Cornelius had a life that people desired--he was a centurion among notable soldiers--but something felt out of place in his life. He prayed as best he knew how and he gave alms because he suspected it was right. He was eager to live the best life he possibly could. Then, one afternoon, he had a vision: a messenger from God came into his home and called out to him. Cornelius was petrified in fear of the angel but was able to muster up enough courage to ask, "What is it, Lord?"

The angel said, in a voice both soothing and discomforting, "All your prayers and gifts offered in ignorance have made their way to God. So, send some people to Joppa to find a man named Peter--they'll find him in the home of Simon the Tanner--near the sea. After God's messenger faded into the crowds surrounding Cornelius' home, he called two of his servants with a shaky voice and one soldier who was like him in prayer and the giving of alms. He told them what had happened with a mix of fear and hopeful anticipation and then sent them to Joppa to do their part in the unfolding story.

Meanwhile, Peter was in Joppa, by the sea, at the house of Simon the Tanner and he went to the top of the house to pray at about noon. As he was praying, hunger gnawed at him and demanded to be sated but as his thoughts turned to food for his body, his thoughts were turned to a vision from God. He saw the clouds parted and a great swath of fabric being lowered down like a heavenly picnic. On the sheet were many different animals--fat and ready for slaughter. He heard a voice that sounded like it could be his own or it could be the voice of Jesus saying, "Get up, Peter. It's time for you to kill and eat."

Perhaps thinking this was a test, Peter said, "You know I won't do that, Lord. I don't eat what you have labeled unclean.

The voice insisted, "If God has made it clean, then don't call it unclean." In Peter's vision this exchange happened three times and then the sheet and all its food were gone in a flash. Peter puzzled over the vision all throughout his lunch and then all throughout the rest of the day. As he replayed the vision in his mind, he suspected that God was trying to tell him something. He was still puzzling the vision when Cornelius' men arrived at the gate of Simon's house looking for him. He heard a voice again say to him, "Peter, there are three men outside who are waiting for you. They've come because I sent them to you."

Peter was eager to find some resolution to all of this and so he hurried down to the gate and said, "I'm Peter. Why has God sent you?"

They responded, "Cornelius has sent us to find you. He is a good man who fears God and is highly respected among the Jews. He received a vision and one of God's messengers told him to seek you out and hear what you have to say." Peter took the men into the home and made them his guests and when the sun rose again, he and some of his fellow Christians went with the men back to the home of Cornelius.

Eventually, they reached Caesarea and found that Cornelius had prepared quite the event and audience to hear Peter's words. As Cornelius' messengers went out seeking Peter, he had become anxious and eager to hear what words might come. So eager was Cornelius to know how and who he should worship, he fell at the feet of Peter and offered worship on the spot to Peter. Peter tapped him on the back and said, "Not me Cornelius. I'm human just like you."Cornelius led Peter in to meet the audience and when Peter saw all the ones gathered to hear him, he remarked, "You all know well how Jews do not associate with other nations and have strict laws concerning purity. Well, God has shown me that no person is unclean.So, when Cornelius sent for me I came quickly without knowing why. I was responding to God's guidance, what were you doing?" Hearing this, Cornelius told the story of the vision and the message and asked Peter if he would be so kind as to share what God had laid upon his heart.

So, Peter cleared his throat and said: "I know well that God is not partial to nations but instead looks at the hearts of individuals. But as for the word he sent to Israel--the good news that Jesus is Lord of all--you already know what happened in Judea and how it began with John baptizing Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus was anointed and went about doing good things and casting out evil and the enemy wherever he went. You saw it and so did I. They put him to death by crucifixion thinking it would be an end of him but he was raised again on the third day. After this resurrection, he appeared to many and he was close to us again. He told us what it is that we should do: preach to the people and bear witness that he is the one called to judge the living and the dead. After all, it was Jesus that all the prophets talked about when they said that all those who trust in him receive forgiveness from sin through his name."

But there was more to it than words. While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on Peter and upon the audience and redemption and salvation came very near to the audience who found themselves transformed by the gospel message of forgiveness and life in the face of sin and death. The fellow Jewish Christians that came with Peter were surprised to see Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit. But they couldn't deny that the gentiles were speaking in tongues and offering praise to God who had made Jesus Lord of all. Peter turned to his fellow Christians and said, "Surely none of you can hold the baptismal waters hostage from ones such as these men and women who have heard the good news and been filled with the Holy Spirit." So, they were baptized in the name of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and Peter remained with them for a while.

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