Cornelius, the First Gentile Believer.
"Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor."
Central truthThere are God-fearing people in the most unlikely places. When God responds to their cry,be prepared to have your world turned upside down.
If you have read any of Simon Scarrow’s excellent series of novels about the Roman Legions of the first century AD, (and they are well worth reading), you will realise that the prevailing belief system in those legions was one of fearful loyalty to the pantheon of the non-gods of Roman and Greek mythology. They were also efficient, ruthless killers, totally dedicated to Rome and its Emperor. Their morality was at best questionable and generally life was cheap.
It is surprising to find three mentions of Roman centurions in the New Testament. As the invaders of Israel, they despised the troublesome Jews and they, in turn, hated and despised the Romans.
There was the centurion who came to Jesus asking that He would heal his sick servant (Matthew 8). He knew enough not to embarrass Jesus by asking him to come to his home. Jesus commended him for his faith.
There was the centurion who was in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus. Although he was charged with the worst of duties, he recognised something special and ‘righteous’ in this man and was obviously impressed with him.
Then there was Cornelius. There is no textual proof, but I wonder if he is the same man who came to Jesus on behalf of his servant and the one who later crucified him? How else could he have been ‘a righteous and god-fearing man’?
By the time Peter begins to talk to the assembled group in the home of Cornelius, he has learned an important lesson; ‘…I should not call anyone impure or unclean.’ This was a cataclysmic shift in thinking for any Jew, particularly a hot-head like Peter.
He seems to assume that they were all aware of what had gone on in the previous weeks and months concerning Jesus. It must have been the talk of the country and no-one could have ignored the fast growing young church in Jerusalem.
Peter testified that he and many others had been witnesses of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They had been commanded to preach the glorious Gospel message, ‘…that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ It’s still the very heart of the Gospel for everyone, anywhere, at any time.
It’s a great story. Cornelius was the first non-Jewish believer. As far as we know he was the first European believer. Was it Cornelius who carried the Gospel to Rome and on to the farthest reaches of the continent dominated by Rome? Maybe it was to Cornelius that Paul wrote the magisterial letter to the Romans?
Peter’s words that momentous day certainly had far-reaching implications and the powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit. There were conversions and signs following, tongues and baptisms. Surely that is what we all long for in our church and throughout the world?
Who do you think might be the equivalent to "Cornelius" in today's society? Have you made assumptions about people based on what you expect the right sort of "seeker" to look or behave like?
Pray that God would open your eyes to respond appropriately to those that He puts in your sphere of influence.