Summary: The story of the church following the Day of Pentecost told from the perspective of Cornelius.
A Church Story
Many years ago there lived a young Italian man, who had been born into a noble and distinguished family. Upon reaching adulthood he entered the military, whether through enlistment or conscription is unclear, nonetheless, as a military man he did very well and eventually ascended to the rank of captain over a regiment of soldiers who were deployed in a foreign city. This was a beautiful city situated right on the coast overlooking the sea. Walking through the streets of this ancient place, the young captain would have been impressed with the lavish palaces and public buildings, a theater, an amphitheater, a highly sophisticated sewer system that kept the city unusually clean for the place and time in which it existed. He would have walked down to the coast and looked over a beautiful, magnificent harbor that seemed strangely out of place in a setting such as this. You see, the young man would have been accustomed to these sights in his homeland, but probably wouldn’t have expected to find such beauty and sophistication in this distant outpost to which he and his men had been stationed.
This captain was surprised to discover something else in this strange place. The native people here only believed in and worshipped one God. It’s likely that he had grown up as a religious man following the religious system of his homeland in which there were many different gods to worship. There were gods of fertility, gods of agriculture, gods for everything you could imagine. Even the leader of his country was considered to be one of the countless gods to which he was required to pay homage and appease. But now, in this strange place, among these strange people, he heard about one God...the only God in existence who created everything, who was everything humanity needed, and who didn’t demand to be appeased, but instead desired to be loved. Our stranger felt himself drawn to this kind of God, who wanted relationship with His creation, not sacrifices from His creation.
It wasn’t long before our captain came to understand the truth about this one God, and gave up on the religious beliefs he had been taught growing up, they had felt empty and meaningless all along anyway. But now this God made sense. All that had been written about Him by the natives made sense. This was the God he needed to devote himself to. He did so, and his devotion to this God took many forms. There grew in his heart a deep reverent awe for this God who over the centuries had demonstrated Himself so powerfully to the natives. He led his entire household, his family, his servants to understand and believe in this God. He began seeking out the poor who were around him and gave generously to them, doing all he could to ease their suffering. He established spiritual disciplines in his life; the most evident one being a life of regular prayer. And eventually, this captain overseeing an occupying army was looked up to and respected by the natives of the land he was sent to occupy. Our young man had experienced a dramatic life change...one that he probably never expected to happen the day he boarded his ship and set sail for this coastal city.
Despite the wonderful changes that had taken place in his heart, his mind, and the way he lived his life, there eventually came a time when he probably thought to himself that there was more to this story than he knew. Yes, there has been a closeness, a growing warmth and devotion to this God, but still it seemed as if there was more to it, but he was strangely unable to push further. He knew this God was real, he knew that God loved him and cared for him, he could clearly see how God had begun to change his heart and mind. But it seemed as if there was still a chasm between God and himself. There were probably times when he thought to himself, “I’ve come so far, I’ve gotten to know this God, why can’t I grow as close to him as I want to?” This experience was to him like walking for miles through the parched desert, finally finding water, walking to the water’s edge, but being unable to drink. It was like going without food for days, coming to a banquet table filled with every sort of delicacy, but not being able to eat. His heart ached, longing to know this God more, but being strangely prohibited by this unseen barrier that said to him, “Today you can only come this far.”
In those days before CNN, e-mail and Fed-Ex news spread slowly. But eventually word probably reached our captain about something strange that had just happened in a city about 70 miles away. One day about 120 people were gathered together in a room, praying to the same God that he had come to believe in. As they prayed a strange sound filled the air, and the people gathered together in the room began praising God out loud. It was such an unusual occurrence that people from all over the city came running to see what was happening. People from other countries, but living in the city and who spoke different languages flocked to the scene and were amazed that everyone, regardless of their language barriers, understood clearly in his own language what was being proclaimed by these 120 people. Finally, one the group came out of the room and spoke to the crowd. He spoke to them about a man named Jesus who had been crucified several weeks earlier for claiming to be the Son of God. When he finished speaking a throng of about 3000 people pledged their allegiance to this Jesus and joined the 120. I suppose our captain’s heart may have leaped as he thought to himself, “Maybe this is the rest of the story.”