Acts 10:36 – You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
Our history books are filled with stories of people doing something that has never been done before. From Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the Moon, to Rosalind Franklin capturing the first image of DNA, to women getting the right to vote in 1920.
For every time that something has been done for the first time, there was a time that it was believed that it couldn’t be done.
Have you ever been told something couldn’t be done, and then you proved your naysayers wrong?
These are the kind of thoughts I have when I read through Acts chapter 10. Up until this point in time, followers of Jesus were predominantly converts of Judaism. Cornelius the Centurion, was “devout and God-fearing”, as was the rest of his family. He was generous and prayed daily to God. He probably thought that this was as good as it was going to get. Until God gave him a vision of something more.
Peter, along with all of the other disciples, were most likely glad to have a Roman Centurion on their side. But they too thought that because he was a Gentile, Cornelius wouldn’t and couldn’t have a relationship to God like the Hebrews could. Until God gave him a vision of something more.
God made it clear to both of these men that the gospel message wasn’t limited to just one group of people, but that Jesus came for us all. And this led to Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, to be the first recorded baptized Gentile in all of Scripture.
I don’t know if I will ever be the first of anyone to do something for the first time, but I am grateful that I am one of the benefactors of someone who did. And while I may never be a trailblazer, I do know that God still gives us dreams and visions for the kind of life that He longs to bless us with. Don’t shy away from a radical notion that God places on your heart. You never know how that might turn into a blessing not only for you, but for generations after you.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Who do you think was most surprised – Cornelius or Peter?
How has God surprised you with how deep and wide and wonderful His plan of salvation is?
Who still needs to hear it and how will you be a part of sharing it with those who need to know?
How do you treat people you don’t understand, people who are different than you, people who have hurt you, people you feel threatened by, people who are troubled, those who have become your enemy?
Both our Old Testament and our New Testament reading today offers some options.
The relationship between King Saul and David began back in 1st Samuel 16. “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (vs 14 – NIV). His advisors had heard of a fine young man who spoke well, played the harp well and bravely fought well. David was brought to the king and Saul liked him very much. It began as a helpful, mutually beneficial relationship. The shepherd boy David received a royal position as armor-bearer and musician. And Saul received relief from the evil spirit when David played his soothing music. It was a win-win – until the little harp-playing armor-bearer bested the Philistine giant and EVERYONE in Israel went gaga for the good-looking brave young hero. Saul became jealous and it isn’t long before Saul is pursuing and trying to kill David. How does David respond? He could have very likely led a successful revolt right from the start. He had many faithful followers at a time when Saul’s popularity was greatly declining. He also had many strong and logical reasons to oust the king. Wouldn’t the whole country of Israel be better off if led by a hero favored by the Lord rather than a has-been tormented by an evil spirit? He even had the support of the king’s son Jonathan. How long can you be loyal to a mentally unstable person who is trying to kill you?
But David, who made a practice of inquiring of the Lord, would not respond as so many others would have. Even when given the opportunity (at least twice) to kill Saul, he instead protected his life. David saw and respected Saul as God’s anointed king and so it didn’t matter how Saul treated him, he would not harm Saul. Revenge was not even in his vocabulary. He placed God’s desire above his own, even when it was hard and didn’t make sense to the rest of the world.
In 2nd Samuel 1 the Amalekite brings word that Saul and Jonathan are dead. He even takes credit for ending the life of the severely wounded king (even though this isn’t mentioned in the passage of Saul’s death in 2nd Samuel 31). But whether he did or he didn’t, he took the crown that had been on Saul’s head and brought it to David, the logical new king. I am sure he was expecting to be rewarded. It seems a logical thing to expect. It seems David would now be relieved, he didn’t have to kill the king personally, but it was done and he no longer had to hide and fear for his life. He could now become king. What good news!
But, no. His loyalty had been no act. He sincerely loved and cared for and wanted what was best for the tormented king, regardless of how he had been treated personally. The peaceful reconciliation he had hoped for had not come. David was in deep grief for his faithful friend Jonathan and for the troubled king who had been the Lord’s anointed. Rather than doing what had been expected of him long ago – killing the king – he now had the messenger who took credit for killing the king killed. And, in his grief he turned again to music, writing a lament to teach Israel to grief the deaths as he did.
In Acts 10 we see a different kind of fractured relationship – one that had never been allowed to develop – because Jews had always seen Gentiles as unclean. Jews and Gentiles had different upbringings, different religions, different nationalities, different goals, different understandings. God had been sanctifying the Jews – removing them from their worldly surroundings to keep them the holy, chosen people of God, untainted by others. And, so there had been many Jewish rules about not associating with Gentiles and with good reason at the time. But times were changing…and God was about to show what entering the new covenant was going to look like. The grace, love, and spirit of God was now going to be poured out on all who believed and followed Jesus, the perfect lamb and Son of God sacrificed for all regardless of whether they were a physical descendent of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob (a Jew) or not (a Gentile).
It is hard to overcome centuries of isolation and distrust. Different is different and too often it becomes a barrier to compassion, understanding, brotherhood, and working together for a common goal – sharing Jesus with the world. It took the good Jewish Peter 3 visions from God and a perfectly timed God-ordained appointment with the devout and God-fearing Gentile Cornelius to be willing to accept that God indeed wanted him to change his view of Gentiles and reach out to them with the saving news of Jesus as well.
How are you doing in your view of those different from you? Do you see their need for Jesus and what you can do to bring Jesus to them? Do you react with compassion, eager to share the good news of Jesus to all, not full of judgement and isolation? How do you react to those you might have once considered impure or unclean? Do you want what is best for those who have hurt you or misjudged you? Does God’s desire and love for the troubled and lost motivate you to put off selfish desires and rise above what others expect of you? How are you doing at loving your enemies?
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 1-2 and Acts 10
“Do not call anything unclean that God has made pure.”
In Acts 10 Peter went up to his roof and closed his eyes, and God opened them with this vision. For those of us who do not come from a Jewish heritage, this is one of the most important stories in the Bible. In this story, the disciples come to realize that salvation through Christ is available to everybody everywhere, not only to the Jewish people. And God has given to us part of the job of spreading His good news. That can be a frightening challenge but remember that He will first do the hard part Himself. In these verses God prepared Cornelius’ heart to be ready to hear the news before He had him talk with Peter; and He is preparing the hearts of people in your life to hear the gospel from you. Maybe it is your school friend whom you study with, your brother who has grown steadily away from the church, or your coworker you’ve been working alongside for years. Nobody is “out-of-bounds” – the Lord wants a relationship with each of His children.
“The Lord is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 Father, please open my eyes today and reveal the people in my life who You have prepared to hear the gospel.
“…if we want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.” Acts 10:35 (Message) Most of us agree we want God. But are we ready to do as He says? In this chapter of Acts, Cornelius, a Gentile, is told by God in a vision to send for Peter – a foreigner – a Jew. God gives no reason; Cornelius asks no questions – he just does it. And then waits. And when Peter comes, Cornelius invites him in and waits again, “ready to listen to whatever the Master put in your heart to tell us.” Do we trust God enough to simply do what he asks and then wait for Him to reveal what it means? We are a generation of questioners, of action. I’ve always been full of questions and NOT good about waiting. How hard it is for me to just listen to God without questioning and then wait – wait for God to reveal His plans, Himself. But the times I manage to do this; when I usually ignore my natural instincts to do things my way, to “make it happen.” But the times I actually listen to that voice in my heart that says, “wait and listen for God’s direction”, those times are ALWAYS better. Father God, thank you for knowing what’s best for us. Help us to learn to wait and listen for your Word. This week, try to quiet your heart so you can hear what your Father is saying. And then do it!