Summary: Are you a person who resists change or seeks it? Peter and Cornelius were two such people. Learn how God intervened to bring truth and life to each.
There’s a phrase that I really hate, but one that I’ve heard often, “We’ve always done it this way.” Change comes hard to some people, even when presented with a new reality that requires change. They’re the kind that say, “I don’t mind change as long as everything stays the same.”
There’s actually a science around this stuff, its called Rogers Adoption/Innovation Curve. The five stages of adoption of change are innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. When it came to recognizing the new reality of the innovator Jesus Christ, the Jews were definitely laggards, described as “Traditional people, caring for the "old ways", are critical towards new ideas and will only accept it if the new idea has become mainstream or even tradition.”
After spending three years with Jesus the disciples had adopted the change that Jesus was in fact the Jewish Messiah. They might have seemed like early adopters to the Pharisees but Jesus wasn’t done innovating change in the universe. He is indeed the Jewish Messiah, but Jesus is also the Gentile Messiah as well. But many Jews had a hard time understanding that. They wanted to “save” the way things had been. Such radical change was really hard to accept.
To say that a Gentile could have a relationship with God outside of Judaism was unthinkable. You became a Jew first, then you could know Jesus, sort of. The Jewish Christians at first really thought salvation was just for them. Jesus is about to show them that they aren’t as early adopters as they thought, and it takes repeating it three times and then showing Peter directly until it got through to him. I’m quite thankful it did though!
Cornelius, on the other hand, was a seeker. He was a man very involved in one system that he didn’t find satisfied him, so he started seeking God. And God found him.
1 – 8
Cornelius led 80 or 100 men, a non-commissioned officer who had worked his way up through the ranks of the Roman army and served as part of a larger force numbering usually 600.
The Roman occupiers were hated in Israel, and the Roman army as official representatives and enforcers of Roman law, even more. This centurion was very unusual, in that he loved Yahweh, communicated that to his house and his men and was generous (the result of his relationship with God no doubt). A “God fearer” was a Gentile who was in the process of becoming a proselyte of Judaism. In this case, it could be that this man saw the waste of paganism and worshipped and prayed to Yahweh.
Military personnel were not permitted to marry so “household” may just mean his servants, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility either that he had a wife and
Lesson: God was preparing the heart of someone who had no guarantee of a relationship but loved and sought God anyway. Deuteronomy 4:29-30
But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.
9 – 16
These guys must have walked some of the 35 miles on foot to get to Caesarea by noon the next day. It was unusual to pray at noon, but prayer is good any time! The roofs of the houses were flat and used for drying vegetables, but could also have canopies on them that would make it a cool spot to recline, even at midday.
Maybe the smells of lunch are beginning to waft up to the roof making Peter’s mouth water. While he’s waiting this sheet comes down. Presumably on this sheet are animals that were okay for a Jew to eat and those that were not. The Law was very specific about what they could eat. See Leviticus 11 for more details.
The specific application here is that for the Christian, the Jewish dietary laws were no longer in effect. Jesus said as much in Mark 7. But the universal application of this vision went much further, that God was accepting both Jew and Gentile into His kingdom. He’s about to find out just how far God is taking this new thing He has created.
Lesson: God may in the process of calling and saving someone with whom you would not associate. Don’t let background or foreground fool you, God looks at the heart.
17 – 23
God is very carefully orchestrating this. He doesn’t want Peter to think that this is any coincidence that these men have arrived just as God have him this vision. When he sees they are Gentiles, I wonder if his mind doesn’t start to spin.
Lesson: What has God been revealing to you? What have you been “inwardly perplexed” about? Perhaps there is some truth God wants you to share with someone who needs to hear it.