Cornelius was an officer in the Roman army. Both Gentile and bad guy. He ate the wrong food, hung with the wrong crowd, and swore allegiance to Caesar. He didn’t quote the Torah or descend from Abraham. Uncircumcised, unkosher, unclean. Look at him.
Yet look at him again. Closely. He helped needy people and sympathized with Jewish ethics. He was kind and devout. “One who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2 NKJV). Cornelius was even on a first-name basis with an angel. The angel told him to get in touch with Peter, who was staying at a friend’s house thirty miles away in the seaside town of Joppa. Cornelius sent three men to find him.
Peter, meanwhile, was doing his best to pray with a growling stomach. He saw a vision of a sheet that contained enough unkosher food to uncurl the payos of any Hasidic Jew. Peter absolutely and resolutely refused. “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (v. 14 NKJV).
But God wasn’t kidding about this. He three-peated the vision, leaving poor Peter in a quandary. Peter was pondering the pigs in the blanket when he heard a knock at the door. At the sound of the knock, he heard the call of God’s Spirit in his heart. “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them” (vv. 19–20 NKJV).
“Doubting nothing” can also be translated “make no distinction” or “indulge in no prejudice” or “discard all partiality.” This was a huge moment for Peter.
Much to his credit, Peter invited the messengers to spend the night and headed out the next morning to meet Cornelius. When Peter arrived, he confessed how difficult this decision had been. “You know that we Jews are not allowed to have anything to do with other people. But God has shown me that he doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit” (v. 28 CEV). Peter told Cornelius about Jesus and the gospel, and before Peter could issue an invitation, the presence of the Spirit was among them, and they were replicating Pentecost—speaking in tongues and glorifying God.
And us? We are still pondering verse 28: “God has shown me that he doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit.”
In our lifetimes you and I are going to come across some discarded people. Tossed out. Sometimes tossed out by a church. And we get to choose. Neglect or rescue? Label them or love them? We know Jesus’ choice. Just look at what he did with us.
From Cast of Characters Lost and Found:
Encounters with the Living God
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2012) Max Lucado
(Previously published writings, brought together in this book of 23 character studies from the Old and New Testament.)