Today I want to tell you the story of a Roman soldier named Cornelius. We can read about him in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts.
The Book of Acts tells the story of the work of the church after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. Peter and the other apostles have preached the Good News of Jesus in Jerusalem, throughout the country of Judaea and to the borders of Israel. Everywhere they have gone, people have heard them with joy and turned their lives over to Jesus. Little communities of ‘Followers of the Way’, as they were called, are springing up all over Israel – people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah come to set Israel free.
Up until now, however, the message has only gone to Jewish people, and the early Christians probably see that as a natural thing. After all, in their mind Jesus was the Messiah of Israel – the one God was going to use to restore Israel to God’s plan for her. The idea that Gentiles – people who were not Israelites – would be included in that plan might never have occurred to them.
However, even though Israel as a whole was not interested in the Gentiles, the fact is that some Gentiles had become very interested in Israel. Throughout the ancient world at this time there were many people who had become disenchanted with the traditional religions and gods of Greece and Rome. These people were attracted by Israel’s belief in one creator God, and also by the high ethical standards set out in the Ten Commandments. A number of these folks had begun to attend synagogues and practice the three duties of godly Jews – prayer, fasting and giving to the poor. They had not taken the step of becoming Jewish – probably the idea of circumcision was a bit of a problem for them! – but they had moved a long way toward Judaism, believing in one God and trying to obey his commandments. Cornelius, the Roman centurion who lived in the town of Caesarea, was probably one of these ‘God-fearers’, as they were called.
Read the rest here.