The gospel for everyone, everywhere

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Acts 10

Caesarea was a very busy place. We have seen how Philip made his home there with his four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. (Acts 8:40; Acts 21: 8) We have also seen how Saul went there on his way to Tarsus after some Greek-speaking Jews had plotted to kill him. (Acts 9:30) Now we find that the Roman centurion, Cornelius, lived there. In fact, Caesarea was one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean. It was a large Roman city, served by an aqueduct that provided the inhabitants with water for some of the luxuries they enjoyed.

Acts 10:1-8

Cornelius was a man who knew God. He gave money to help the poor and prayed regularly, but he knew nothing about Jesus. God knows all about every one of us, including whether or not we are searching for Him. He promises that all who diligently search for Him will find Him. So it is no surprise to read in this chapter that Cornelius had a vision of an angel. God knows just what it takes to get through to people, especially those for whom we are praying. As we pray for family and friends, we can trust God to speak to them and prepare them. (Acts 10:1-6)


Sharing Jesus

Here is a simple prayer that you can use to pray for those you know and love, who do not yet know Jesus for themselves. It can be very helpful to use words from the Bible in your prayers. God says (in Isaiah 55:11) that His words are never empty. They are the means through which He expresses His plans and purposes in the world and in us. They help to guide our own thinking and make sure that it is in line with His own.

Father, I come to You in prayer, trusting that You will listen to me and answer me. In Your word, You say that You desire for everyone to be saved and to know the truth about You, so I bring ________ before You this day. In the Name of Jesus, I ask You to remove the power of the enemy in ________’s life. I ask You to send believers who will share the good news about Jesus with ________ in such a way that s/he will listen and understand it. If I am to be one of those people, I'm ready and willing to do it. Father, I ask that You fill ________ with the knowledge of Your will for him/her with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. As I pray for ________, I believe that the power of Your Holy Spirit is activated and, from this moment on, I shall praise and thank You for ________’s salvation. I am confident that You are alert and active, ready to keep Your word. I believe that it will not return to You empty but will accomplish what You send it to do. I pray that the work You begin to do today in ________’s life will come to full completion on the day of Jesus Christ, when we shall see Him face to face."


The question we need to ask is: What would we do if we had a similar vision? Would we obey what the angel told us to do? Perhaps the first question to ask is: Do we expect God to speak with us, or even to communicate with us?

God will do what He has to in order to get our attention, but the decision as to whether we even notice Him (or, once we have noticed Him, whether we obey Him) is entirely ours. There are many examples of people running away from God after He has spoken to them. The most dramatic is perhaps that of Jonah the prophet, who was asked by God to speak to the people of Nineveh. He heard what God had to say, then turned his back and went in entirely the opposite direction. God didn't give up on him but, in order to get back to what God really wanted him to do, Jonah had to go through some pretty torrid times. Being swallowed alive by a "large fish" was not really what he been expecting! If you've never read the short book in the Bible about him, it's worth looking up!

It is so important that we listen to God and obey Him, whatever He says. He wants only the very best for us. Are there perhaps problems in your own life that have been caused by you hearing God asking you to do something but then running away from it? If so, the best solution is to recognise that you're heading in the wrong direction and to turn around and ask Him to sort things out for you. Nothing is too hard for Him, but He only works with willing partners! (Jeremiah 32:26-27) Sometimes we may think that what we have done is too bad to be forgiven. This is not true. Saul was a murderer and so was Moses. David was an adulterer who conspired in a plot to murder an innocent husband. Matthew, who wrote one of the four gospels, was a thief and an embezzler. In every one of these cases, when those concerned turned to God, He forgave and transformed them.

Saul was renamed "Paul" by God to demonstrate his change of allegiance and he went on to write much of what we call the "New Testament" in the Bible. After Moses had come to recognise God as his Lord, he was used by God to lead the Israelites, all two million of them, out of slavery in Egypt and into the "promised land". (Exodus 3:11-12) David was a man who, having acknowledged his sin and turned back from it, went on to be the greatest leader that the nation of Israel has ever had. (Psalm 51:1-2) God Himself said that David was a man after His own heart. Matthew recognised his shortcomings, left his old ways and gave his life to God, when Jesus walked into his life one day. He literally stopped what he was doing, left his job as a tax collector and followed Jesus for the rest of his life. Zacchaeus was another tax collector who gave his life to God and restored all that he had stolen from the public. (Luke 19:2-10) What we do, when we ask God to take control of our lives, is not easy but it is amazing when we do it! Cornelius came to the point where he knew that, in order to move his life forward, he had to do what God asked him to do.

God will never lead you at a pace faster than you are prepared to go. All that Cornelius had to do first of all was to listen to the angel. (Acts 10:5-6) The instructions were simple enough. He was told who to get, where he could find him, then what to ask him to do once he had found him. Cornelius responded obediently. As a man in authority with responsibilities, he could not go himself, but he selected three people he could trust to go on his behalf: two servants and one godly man. (Acts 10:7-8)

Joppa

(The picture on the left is the view from the flat roof where Peter prayed in Joppa. Acts 10:9)

Acts 10:9-23

When God speaks to us and asks us to go to another person, we can guarantee that He has also prepared the heart of the other person. Here we can see both sides of the story. Cornelius was a spiritual man who needed to find the true object of his religion: Jesus. (There are many people in the world like that today.) Peter, on the other hand, had already found Jesus and had lived around Him for three years, during His entire ministry on earth, but he had a problem: his religious attitude still had a greater hold on him in some areas than did Jesus.

Many people picture God as a white-haired symbol of authority in a long robe – a father-figure with a big stick. Step out of line and you will know about it! This kind of thinking could not be further from the truth. Watch how He deals with Peter in this situation. (Acts 10:9-17) Peter had been taught never to touch what was "unclean" and, in the Bible, many creatures such as those in his vision, were described as "unclean". Not only should they not be eaten, but they should not even be touched. However, his vision was very clearly from God. Peter was looking for any opportunity to serve God. He wanted to hear from Him and was learning to walk in the power of his faith in Jesus - often described as "walking in the Holy Spirit". Peter was truly concerned. Now, when God orchestrates something, it all comes together and things fit in the most amazing ways. Notice that this is what happened to Peter while the three men sent by Cornelius were drawing near to Joppa. While Peter was praying, the three men were making their way to the house. Just at the time when Peter was wondering what on earth his vision was all about, who should be knocking on the door, but the three men from Cornelius!

Gentiles (those who were not Jewish) were regarded by the Jewish people as unclean. A true Jew would have nothing to do with them for fear of becoming unclean himself. Peter was ethnically and culturally Jewish, but now he was also a believer. When he saw the three men, he realised what the Holy Spirit had been saying to him: "Even though these men are 'unclean', I want you to go with them. Don’t ask questions for now - just do it!" (Acts 10:17-23) When God asks us to do something, there will be a reason behind it. It may be that He has asked us to do it because He has already prepared some other person who will meet us and help us (or it may be that He wants us to help them!) In either case, there will be a purpose to His request that goes far beyond you and me. Our human brains - even the best and brightest of us - can only cope with a certain amount of complexity, but that is not the case with God. He sees the end from the beginning, even though it may be years hence and involve many thousands of encounters with different people along the way. God does not do things haphazardly; there is always a purpose in what He does.

So Peter and some other believers left Joppa and set out for Caesarea. What did they talk about on the way? Did Peter share his vision or ask for any understanding from his fellow travellers? Perhaps it was along the lines of hardly daring to believe that God might offer His salvation to the Gentiles. Had Jesus really meant what He said when He instructed them to go into "all the world"? (Acts 1:8)

miracles healings

Up to that point, Peter had probably accepted that the disciples had to go into "all the world" (just as Jesus had said) but maybe thought that they had to go and find every Jewish person in the entire world and preach the good news to them, because this message was only for Jewish people. That would be difficult enough but now, suddenly, as a result of his vision and of these men coming to meet him, the truth of the good news being for everyone was beginning to dawn on him. The enormity of the task ahead of the disciples would have been breathtaking. Perhaps he had forgotten Jesus’ words to the disciples: "You are to go into all the world and preach the good news to everyone, everywhere.” (Mark 16:15)

Acts 10:24-44

When they arrived, there was a reception committee awaiting them. Cornelius had high expectations that what Peter was going to tell him was going to change his life (and the lives of his family and friends) for ever, but he had perhaps elevated Peter in his own mind to something that he was not. Ministers of the gospel are not gods – they are servants. Peter understood that and he quickly dispelled any doubts in Cornelius’ mind. (Acts 10:24-27) It has long been a temptation for servants of the living God to forget that we are here to serve Him and not to receive praise and honour from others. The sooner we understand this to be the case, the faster we shall accomplish our task of reaching everyone, everywhere. Peter was under no illusions as to his position and wasted no time in going to Cornelius, but he had to know that what God had sent him to say was really what Cornelius expected to hear. (Acts 10:28-29)

What about us? Do we occasionally make a lot of fuss about getting to hear or meet certain people, but don’t really want to pay too much attention to what they actually have to say? There was none of that here. Many people had come to listen to what Peter had to say. There was an expectation about the place. They couldn’t wait to hear what Peter had to say! (Acts 10:30-33) It had taken four days to get this man down here - four days of waiting to hear what God had to say – and now they were all ready. If God were to speak to us and say that someone would arrive in four days’ time to let us know the answer to our problem, how would we prepare ourselves? In today’s hustle and bustle, would we even remember about it in four days' time? We need to be "pregnant" followers of Jesus Christ, always expecting our amazing God to answer our prayers and bring to birth changed lives. If we expect nothing, we shall surely never be disappointed! These people opened their hearts to what Peter had to say and responded gladly to the message about Jesus that he shared. Peter himself must have learned just as much - if not more - about God's amazing love for all humanity - not just the Jewish people. (Acts 10:34-43)

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The words that Peter spoke had a profound effect on all who heard him. This was not because of the words themselves, but because what was said allowed the Holy Spirit to move in their lives. This is the very work that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to do. It is the very essence of God's plan for our lives: that we should be led into "all truth". (John 16:13-15) Even as Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit moved on that group of people. They responded by giving their lives to Jesus and were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 10:44)

Acts 10:45-48.

Perhaps Peter had thought about the implications of the Gentiles receiving the good news about Jesus and entering into all the benefits of becoming believers, but those who had accompanied him on the trip to Caesarea most certainly had not. It opened up a whole raft of new questions. If the Gentiles were able to believe in Jesus, then how could anyone prevent them from being baptised? Did it even apply to Roman soldiers who, after all, were an occupying force in Israel! "The Jews who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit would be given to Gentiles too! But there could be no doubt about it, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Peter asked, 'Can anyone object to my baptising them, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?' So he did, baptising them in the name of Jesus, the Messiah. Afterwards Cornelius begged him to stay with them for several days." (Acts 10:45-48)

These Gentiles had also been baptised in the Holy Spirit. How did Peter and his companions know this? Because they spoke in tongues. That was all the evidence they needed. What does that mean for us today? Some people rationalise this and say that speaking in tongues passed away with the apostles, sometime towards the end of the first century AD. We only need believe what God says in His word. Speaking in tongues was not the only gift they received. They now had at their disposal all the other gifts of the Spirit as He filled them with His power. These gifts are also for us today as we are baptised in the Holy Spirit. They are there to help us live our lives in victory over the power of Satan, even as he desperately tries to convince us that they are not for us, because we have done nothing to deserve them! We didn’t deserve to be born again, but the same Holy Spirit, who wants to give us these gifts, gave us the faith to believe God for salvation. So we can take God at His word and simply receive all that He has for us!

Caesarea

Now that these people were believers and had been baptised in the Holy Spirit, how could they not also be baptised in water? So Peter continued with the job in hand. Many people were baptised and there must have been lots of rejoicing as family and friends entered into the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Their future was now secure. They were Christians and Jesus would never leave them nor forsake them. (Hebrews 13:5) Neither would anyone ever pluck them out of His hand! (John 10:28)

Not much is left of Caesarea now. What there is has been buried for centuries. It has been ravaged by the sea, by armies, by navies and by time. Only the stories of those exciting events have survived, to be recounted time and again on earth and to live on, undiminished for all eternity. We have had the privilege to look in on Cornelius and see the lengths to which God was prepared to go to reach one of His chosen sons. What about us? Will we now believe all that God wants us to receive? Will we be obedient and listen to Jesus as He softly bids us come to Him for healing; spiritual, physical as well as emotional? Let us accept all that has been so freely given, so that we will stand the test of time with our faith in Jesus Christ.


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