Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Conversion of Cornelius

             Luke tells a masterful story of the conversion of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, and his family. Interwoven in the story is the account of God preparing Peter for the mission to share the gospel to the Gentiles. It is a story full of surprises and learning. It is a story that all disciples need to learn to live.

            Cornelius was “devout and God-fearing, he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” God paid attention to Cornelius and decided to engage him. In a vision he saw an angel who told him to send for Peter in the city of Joppa. Cornelius obeyed and was eager to learn what Peter may have to teach him.

            Peter also received a vision from God in which he was shown a sheet full of animals and told to kill and eat. Peter perhaps sensing that this was a test, refused to obey God, saying “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Three times this command and refusal played out and Peter was left wondering what God was trying to teach him.

            When the men sent by Cornelius arrived at the house where Peter was staying it started to become clear to Peter what was happening. However, the Holy Spirit did not want to take any chances with such an important event, so the Spirit said to Peter, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them for I have sent them.” Peter obeyed and went to Caesarea to meet Cornelius.

            Here are Peter’s first words to Cornelius and his family: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you have sent for me?” Peter was changing and growing as he spoke! His knew knowledge allowed him to cross the threshold of a Gentile home. (It did not keep him, however, from still being a little offensive in his speech – I am sure the people understood that until very recently Peter considered them unclean!).

            As Peter was preaching the good news of Jesus to the people the Holy Spirit came upon them and shocked everyone in the room. Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized in water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have!” And they baptized Cornelius and his family. Peter stayed with them for several days. While we call this story “the conversion of Cornelius” it is really more about the continuing conversion of Peter. It is not easy to keep stretching and growing as disciples, but if we are going to follow Jesus we must do it until we are “fully mature as our heavenly Father is fully mature!” Keep growing…

- Kenny Payne

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