Ministry & Leadership - Spring 2017 - 19
s a centurion from Caesarea, Cornelius would have been a prominent
man of abundant means. More than
his importance and standing in society, however, was his godliness. He
does not represent a rank pagan, but
a God-fearer - that is, a Gentile who had
been drawn to God through the Jews, yet
who had not taken the final steps toward
becoming a Jewish proselyte or convert.
He feared God, he gave generously to the
poor and he was a man of prayer (v. 2), but
he had not been circumcised and most
likely did not follow many laws having to
do with ritual purity. This God-fearing
man took seriously his responsibility of
spiritual leadership within his household
so that its members, too, feared God - he
was a man of spiritual influence (v. 2).
But he was a man apart. Here is one so
dedicated that he scheduled his times of
prayer according to the temple (v. 3), yet
he himself was not free to go to the temple.
What stands out to us is that this man
loved and feared God, even though he was
not permitted into the full rites and privileges of the Jewish religion. Because he
loved and feared God, he would have been
faithfully waiting for the coming Messiah.
19 Ministry & Leadership
God recognized this faith and chose to
work through it in order to demonstrate to
His church the radical implications of the
coming of Jesus Christ.
God's work here is monumental and will
shake Cornelius to the core. God graciously prepares him by sending an angelic vision so that he will hear His word from
Peter (vv. 3-6). First, though, God must
prepare the Apostle Peter.
e find Peter here in our chapter
at noon on the rooftop in prayer.
Something very natural happens:
he becomes hungry. Then something very supernatural happens:
he sees an absurdly unique vision
God brings him into his movie theater.
A sheet descends from the heavens, in it
being all kinds of animals, both clean and
unclean. Plenty of those forbidden in the
Torah would have been represented there.
But instead of being reminded by God of
His laws regarding ritual purity, Peter
hears something that must have fallen
rather harshly on Jewish ears: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat" (v. 13).
Now remember who we are dealing with
here. This man who told Jesus he would
never wash His dirty feet, this one who
cut off the ear of the high priest's servant
who came to take Jesus away, was not one
given to an equivocating response! "By no
means, Lord," he says emphatically (v. 14).
God's simple command so flew in the
face of what Peter knew and practiced
that He had to go beyond the mere command and add the explanation that He
has now made what is unclean clean. And
just as Peter thrice denied the Lord before
His death before he realized what he was
doing, God in His patience and preparation goes through this spectacular display
three times so that the lesson to Peter is
clear (v. 16).
Now that does not mean Peter immediately gets it. He gets the part about the
animals, sure, but something deeper is at
work here. God has shaken up Peter's understanding and he is inwardly perplexed,
because while there is an importance to
what God has said about the animals, it is
to teach a larger lesson (v. 17). It will be in
the events that follow where Peter gets it.
Summoned by Cornelius (vv. 17-23), Peter is brought to a very willing audience
in Caesarea (vv. 24-27). He addresses
them, starting with a rather harsh note
by saying what the Gentiles painfully