God’s People, part 247: Cornelius

Read Acts 10

“When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, ‘Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?”’  (Galatians 2:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Centurion_Le_Centurion_-_James_Tissot-Wikimedia-CC2Part 247: Cornelius. As Luke wrote, Cornelius was the captain of a Roman cohort called, “The Italian.” While, that may sound like the name of a sandwich to us, Roman cohorts were no joke. They were made up of 480 men and were roughly the equivalent of a modern military battalion. Thus, Cornelius was someone who had worked himself up the ranks in the Roman military.

While we don’t know much more about Cornelius than that, we can certainly ascertain that he was not a person to be trifled with. He, no doubt, would have been much like the centurion that Jesus engaged with. That centurion said the following to Jesus, “…I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.’”  (Matthew 8:9, NLT)

There’s something else we know about Cornelius: he and his entire household were God-fearing people. Perhaps you are questioning what it actually means to be a “God-fearing” person. In the ancient word, a God-fearer was a Gentile who was supportive of Hellenistic Judaism. He or she would observe certain Jewish religious traditions and rituals; however, they were not fully converted to Judaism. To traditional, non-Hellenistic Jews, they were still unclean and not a part fo God’s people because they didn’t follow all of the Jewish laws, including Kosher dietary laws.

Cornelius, despite being a Gentile, was someone who lived according to the heart of the law. It is quite clear that he loved God with his whole being and he was clearing loving his neighbor as he loved himself. Luke attested to the fact that Cornelius was very generous and compassionate toward the poor; however, that clearly didn’t seem to initially change the Apostles’ opinion of him.

That is why God gave Peter the vision prior to sending him to Caesarea to visit with Cornelius. In the vision, God told Peter to kill and eat an unclean animal and Peter objected. Was this some sort of gotcha test? After all, Peter had been a devout Jew is whole life. Still, God commanded him to kill the unclean animal and eat it. In fact, God scolded Peter for his reluctance and said, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:15, NLT).

It took Peter having this vision 3 times in a row for him to budge and agree. Sadly, the debate did not end there. Even after Peter did go in and eat in the household of Cornelius, the leaders in Jerusalem were not okay with it. Their reluctance caused Peter to live a double life, eating with Gentiles while James and the Jerusalem church leaders weren’t around, but avoiding such foods and table company when they were around. Eventually Paul called him out on his hypocrisy and Peter testified that God had declared the act of eating with Gentiles to be a clean and holy act.

Of course, while Peter’s reluctance to follow God did not end with his time with Cornelius, much good did come out of Peter’s engagement with Cornelius. He and his family were baptized, and they went from God-fearing people to being followers of Christ. What’s more, it wasn’t just Cornelius’ family that converted, but the Holy Spirit fell on many Gentiles during Peter’s time there.

This should challenge us. How do our ideas of God’s law keep us from seeing the working of the Holy Spirit in others? We look at different people as being “unclean” because of how we read Scripture and interpret God’s opinion. For instance, we look at people who are scantily dressed, or people who have tattoos all over them, or people who listen to certain music, or who have certain professions as being lost and foreign to God; however, today’s Scripture cautions us on our judgments and calls us to stop telling God what is unclean. That is for God to determine, not for us. Besides, even is something is unclean that does not mean it is outside of God’s ability to cleanse. Remember, we are not called to be judges but witnesses of God’s amazing Grace through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

Lord, help me to see people through your eyes rather than through my own. Amen.

Leave a Reply