God at Work through Men: Peter and a Roman Officer

The historical occurrence recounted in this passage is of great significance to the church and Christianity, because the account of God’s opening the door of the Gospel to the Gentiles is repeated three times.

Who was Cornelius? A Roman officer serving in Israel, he accepted faith in the living God and submitted to the religious laws and practices of the Jews. This was, however, inadequate for his salvation. But God still heard this devout man’s prayer :and wanted to bring him into the fel­lowship of Christians, and perfectly arranged a meeting with Peter who had to open the door of Christianity to him.

What can we learn from this account and apply to ourselves? The contemporary world is religiously. inclined and exerts every effort in an attempt to achieve salvation. However, despite its religiosity, the world does not know Jesus and consequently cannot find that only way to God.

But to return to the text. Here God prepares Peter for a specific mission. He is charged with announcing the saving message of Jesus. Christ, the Good News of Salvation, without works, as a devout Jew who had received the commandment from Jesus not to go among the pagans (Matt. 10:5), he could not comprehend the opportunity arising for Gen­tiles to be saved as well. Therefore, God prepared him in a graphic way and in a Manner which he could understand. God uses various means to assert his will in history, and in this instance he resorted to a special vision to give Peter his commandment about the necessity of going to a pagan’s house.

Peter’s faithfulness in prayer was a prerequisite to this special revela­tion from God. We cannot, however, conclude that just because Peter prayed at a special time, God used him as an agent to deliver the Gospel to a pagan. God had him in his plan, so that Peter really opened the door to. Christianity for the Gentiles with the keys which Christ, in a figurative way, had given him. It is interesting to note that through the prayers of Cornelius and Peter, God was able to adapt perfectly the time and place to complete the work of salvation in a pagan.

Peter was astonished by this divine proclamation and summons, so that initially he rejected God’s command. In leis prejudicial devotion he answered God: “Not so, Lord!” and in so doing uttered a paradok, for while he called God his Lord he could not reject him simultaneously. Still, God did not withdraw his command but repeated it three times so that Peter would be radically changed.

God’s timing and placing of events are perfect, but we are more concerned about particulars and childish details than in unquestioningly obeying God’s commands and acting on them. It is God’s problem how to bring people to hear the truth which he has revealed to me. I must be careful not to alter the truth while being faithful to my vision.

The meeting of Peter and Cornelius is extremely significant since God had prepared both of these men. We must always remember that God is the prime mover in the work of evangelism, much more than we are. If we believe that he has given us a message, then we also believe that he will give us people who need to hear that message. God will arrange a time and place for us to meet those who need salvation. Frequently we are too occupied with the organization of places to meet, and the gathering of people, and too little concerned about studying God’s proclamation and the content of the message we need to share.

People are interested in hearing what God has revealed to us. The proclamation is given to us in the Bible. We don’t need others! It is per­fect and complete! We need only to understand it and share it with others.

The most wonderful words a minister of the Gospel can hear are those which Peter heard when Cornelius told him, “. . . therefore we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (v. 33).

And Peter did not hesitate to give a complete account of Jesus Christ, the one about whom we need to speak. He presented the heart of the Gospel in a very brief interval and in just a few sentences, but sufficient that a man who had been prepared by God could understand and accept it. How many times have our sermons concentrated on everything except Jesus, and then we are surprised at the lack of results!

The Good News for Cornelius and his house was this: salvation is possible through Jesus Christ (v. 36). This should be the content of our Good News.

Peter thus described Christ as the Lord of all. He was a historical personage and the fulfillment of prophecy. He was the God-man, of supernatural capabilities. Peter witnessed to this, because he saw and experienced it all.

Christ, the one about whom he spoke, died on the Cross and rose again — this is basic to the message — and revealed himself to his chosen ones.

Subsequently Christ commanded them to announce this to the people (this is what Peter says), however, Christ said in Matt. 28:19, “to all peoples in the world.” Due to the prejudices of Jewish customs and orthodox Judaism, God had to intervene in a special way to change Peter and compel him to speak to a pagan. The result was forthcoming.

This account can serve as an example for us in our work, but we dare not anticipate God’s repeating in detail every move he made with Peter. The lesson is clear. We must preach the Good News to everyone, without regard to racial, cultural, and national differences, not only to those we find pleasant and likeable, and those who are wealthy and influential because they can be more useful to us in our work, but to everyone. We dare not limit God’s message and the Gospel, for then we will make the same mistake as Peter did. Then God had to intervene. Let us never say to God, “Not so, Lord,” for he can punish us.

May we let God do the organizing and let us remain faithful to the message which is revealed to us!

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Dr. Lovrec, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, is the Founder of Duhovna Starnost (Spiritual Reality), a Christian publishing firm.

Date: 19 Jul 1974

Gathering: 1974 Lausanne