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* - Teaching a great Sabbath School lesson - *
If you had to write one sentence defining yourself, what would it say?
The story of Cornelius’ conversion begins with three verses (Acts 10:1-3) that are one power-packed sentence in the original Greek. It is a detailed introduction to a story of epic change in the way God’s people are to see their mission and method of ministry. In this single sentence we learn Cornelius is an Italian soldier in charge of 100 men - a centurion. We learn he is spiritually devoted to three things: Israel’s God, generosity, and prayer. His pious practices demonstrated a readiness of heart for the Gospel and the “new story” of God, through His Son Jesus Christ.
Acts 10 tells a riveting story of two visions that lead to a new vision of the Kingdom of God. The first vision came to Cornelius, a gentile who loved God. The next vision came a day later to Peter as he was about to receive an invitation. And the third vision (Acts 11:1-19) is the one the Early Church received when they heard the story of Gentile and Jew joining together for food, faith and family. After hearing the story, and a shocked silence, the Jewish Christians rejoiced that repentance resulting in life was now available even to the Gentiles!
Peter stayed in their home, ate at their table, and listened to Cornelius’ vision story: “God sees you, Cornelius; call for Simon Peter.”
Inside Cornelius’ home, Peter responds by telling of his own vision, received a day later, just moments before Cornelius’ men arrived with the invitation.
“A sheet descended from Heaven,” Peter said. “Three times the command came to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat!’ and three times I said, ‘No, Lord! It is unclean!’ After the third time the voice replied to me, “What God has made clean, you must not call unworthy.” Peter pauses, his eyes clouding over, “I am sorry that I saw you as unclean, my brother! God has clearly spoken to you and through you into your beautiful family. I came here today, because you are as righteous - through Christ Jesus - as I am.”
Life changing moments come in threes for Peter. He denied Christ three times - and thought it was the end of his ministry. He was asked three times by Jesus, “Do you love me?” - and was reinstated as a pillar of the early Christian movement. And, now, God is teaching Peter the reality of what happened on the Cross - the floodgates of Heaven have been opened to all of humanity. None are to be rejected.
Food brings people together when it is shared. And food separates people when it is withheld for any number of reasons. God knew the Jews finickiness in this area and used it to teach the Church a new way of thinking - His way. The Jews were careful, due to their social taboos, to avoid ever eating with a gentile. So, the voice from Heaven said, in effect, “I have set the table and invited everyone in. Do come. Sit next to anyone - you’re all equals in this Kingdom!”
** Continued in Baptism By Fire tomorrow **