Now there was a certain man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually. About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in to him, and said to him, “Cornelius!” And fixing his gaze upon him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. “And now dispatch some men to Joppa, and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a certain tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” And when the angel who was speaking to him had departed, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were in constant attendance upon him, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. And on the next day, as they were on their way, and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he beheld the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” And again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. And while Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. “But arise, go downstairs, and accompany them without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” And so he invited them in and gave them lodging.
Throughout the whole history in the Bible we see several sublime strings, patterns, purposes, ebbs, flows, and even though things change, God’s intent and purpose has always been the same–to walk with his creation and to be worshipped by this community. Most people can’t accept this. They can’t understand how God could demand that he be worshipped. They see the world through their blinded eyes and closed minds believing that God is at fault for all the pain and suffering. They insist that in order for God to be worshipped, or even real, he would first have to put an end to all of the wickedness in the world.
The problem with this approach to God is that although he continually creates the opportunity for people to worship him in community, it is the rebellious people who break the community and walk away from worship; or, “worship the creature rather than the creator.” Eve listened to the snake, Adam listened to Eve and they both ate of the forbidden fruit. The promise of a new paradigm positioning from the snake was that they would be like God, that is, as gods. However, though they became like God in the knowledge of good and evil they became unlike God in their sin. Therefore they were expelled from paradise, the land was cursed and in toil they would labor, eventually dying, lest they eat from the tree of life. In this new paradigm there is pain, suffering, darkness and death. Nevertheless, God was gracious in their disobedience, even clothing them in their nakedness–Paradise lost.
Paradise restored– “And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.”
What happens in the meantime? Is man left wandering the world without worship or fellowship with God? This is the gospel–that all have sinned, like Adam, but God himself, reconciled us to himself through the sending of his son, who died on the cross in our stead, raising him from the dead on the third day as proof that the price of sin had been paid and that the wrath of God against sin, fell squarely on his shoulders. Then Jesus sent his Spirit to support his servants in the spread of the gospel, godly living and growth, amidst persecution–worshiping in Spirit and truth.
What now, that was almost two thousand years ago? For me, the hardest thing is to avoid is hypocrisy. I live with my head, torso, arms, legs and one foot planted on this planet predetermined to perish, with one foot focused on eternity. I have been taught in a way and live in such a way that this world is about to end, any day now. Yet I also have delusions of grandeur, that I will preach the gospel to the small Muslim community within relative proximity to me, and they will turn to Jesus, reproducing, making disciples of their own. I believe that my missives will truly touch three of four people, who will in turn, spread the message that God is not finished with the world but wants all to be saved. I believe that I can start a small home-church that will birth new home-churches. In the same way I taught two different teenaged groups, believing that in the next generation, God would find true worshipers. I want to go back to a certain communist country in the Caribbean and teach them to “consider the context.” I want to email the dogmatic dispensationalist directors of discourse on the radio waves to “consider the context.” I have yet to find an open door to these ministries. This makes me question whether or not I am wrong. Does the gospel prevail or does the devil? How do I pray?
Make no mistake, the dogmatic dispensational doctrine is a decree of a prodigious degree of depravity–the world gets worse and worse until, like the days of Noah, God can no longer take the degree of depravity and will therefore rapture his church. Yet contextually there is a problem. Isaiah says that there will be no end to the increase of his government. Jesus said that the kingdom starts small but will continue to grow. Did Jesus come, “born of a woman, born under the Law,” so that his gospel would fail? Question, why did it take so long for God to flood the world; because he is patient or because the fall of man, kept falling? When Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, which was catastrophic, notice that they lived for almost a thousand years. Their children married each other without fear of inbreeding. Though catastrophic, the results of sin were progressive. In the same way, Jesus’ coming changed the world, but it didn’t all happen immediately or totally. There is a progression.
John recorded the following from the testimony of John the Baptist, concerning their cousin the Christ: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John also recorded Jesus as saying, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” John himself testified that, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” John saw, “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne.”
Presently, people pray for a revival in America, but not nearly as fervently as they request a rapture rescue. I can honestly admit that I am not sure exactly how I pray. Before writing this missive I prayed specifically for clarity concerning the context and how it ties in with the sublime string and progression of the gospel. However I didn’t pray for the ability to explain it. Now I wish I had after scrapping my first attempt. This, of course, is a prayer in and of itself. That’s my question, when I am not looking, how do I pray? How do we all pray in the west? In the west we pray that the persecution will stop in the east. In the persecuted east, I have heard, that they pray for persecution in the west, so that we will return to God–who is right? But how do we pray when we are not paying attention to ourselves? Or are we simply silent to the Lord? What do we expect from our prayer lives and our worship, rescue or bearing good fruit worthy of reward? Now that the pump has been primed, let’s look at the prayer of Cornelius in a significant, symbolic, historical event.
“Now there was a certain man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually.” We have all but established that when Luke writes, “a certain man,” he is not referring to a follower of Christ. If Cornelius was a follower of Jesus, he would have written, “a certain disciple.” Nevertheless, Cornelius was devout, charitable, God-fearing and prayed to God, continually. Cornelius, according to the apostle Paul, lived more lawfully than most of Israel at that time. “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do linstinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” We all have that secret, secluded, private place in us, the question is, who reigns and reinforces our secret strongholds?
Clearly by Luke’s description of the gentile, Cornelius, he knew down deep that the God of Israel was the God of the nations. And his service and prayers reached the Lord. Notice; “About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in to him, and said to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And fixing his gaze upon him and being much alarmed, he said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.'” Here, we use the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions.
Therefore we question what we have been taught and rely thoroughly on the context. Many pastors and preachers theologians and teachers claim that Cornelius was the first gentile convert. However we are reminded of Rahab and Ruth, because many will say that Cornelius was the first convert not to be circumcised. Women converts were not circumcised. My point is that in the case of Cornelius, we see the same sublime string that we see in Ruth and Rahab. We also remember another Roman centurion who had faith greater than any one of the sons of Israel. Whether that centurion was circumcised or not, we don’t know. Could this centurion be the same as that centurion? Luke was an impeccable researcher, I believe he would have told us if that was the case. However, there is a huge difference in that Cornelius came after the resurrection. While almost certainly not the very first, gentile convert, Cornelius is the symbolic character of God’s choice of the gentiles becoming disciples.
“Cornelius!” Notice Cornelius’ response; “what is it, Lord?” This is why we consider the context and why I can write, Cornelius knew down deep that the God of Israel was the God of the nations. Look again, the messenger called his name and Cornelius’ simple response is sublime– “what is it, Lord?” Cornelius was not caught off guard or shocked. He was praying with expectancy. Continually Cornelius prayed, waiting for and hoping for an answer. And an answer he received.
“Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now dispatch some men to Joppa, and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a certain tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” The Greek word used for “memorial” was only used one other time in the New Testament, when Mary anointed Jesus with pure nard, which made the people present indignant. But Jesus told them, “For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.” In a significantly symbolic sense and in a similar way, the prayers and alms of Cornelius are eternally represented. Most likely he was not the first gentile convert but post resurrection, he very well could have been. But being the first isn’t as important as being the primary example or the one whose prayers opened up the floodgates of favor to the gentiles. The proof is in the prayers and the answer to the prayers, which is multifaceted by way of another involved, third party named Peter.
“And when the angel who was speaking to him had departed, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were in constant attendance upon him, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. And on the next day, as they were on their way, and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he beheld the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, ‘Arise, Peter, kill and eat!’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.’ And again a voice came to him a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there.” This is Divine timing. Simply put, God was all over this situation, in specificity the sublime string is seen.
Problem; Peter’s Perplexity. We are given a glimpse of Peter’s private place, his inner stronghold, the secret hiding place down deep in all of our beings. Peter probably contributed greatly to the writing of The Gospel of Mark, yet it probably wasn’t written yet, based on the context. Kierkegaard wrote, “life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards.” Several years prior to Peter’s perplexing vision, Jesus had already declared all things clean. In Mark 7 we read; “‘Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?’ (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.'” In the hiding places of men, where our secrets are kept, our mouths and minds make these things evident to an astute observer, such as the Lord.
For Cornelius, hidden in his heart was desire for God. In Peter’s hiding place, we still see some lack of understanding. In the hiding places of many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, rabbis and Messianic messangers, is that a small, parenthetical phrase in Mark, cannot negate the Torah. Problem; this passage in today’s text. While symbolic, because Peter was hungry and the Lord showed him food rather than gentiles, it is still to be taken literally considering the greater context on this topic. We have a prescription for this found later in Acts and Paul’s words to the Galatians, Colossians and Corinthians concerning food, in addition to what Jesus has said. It all comes down to our hidden place, to our understanding, to what we believe, what we have been taught but it should come down to what God has said–considering carefully the context, aspirations of author, genre, examples and dividing rightly. In the secret vault of Peter’s heart, he still didn’t fully comprehend what Jesus meant when he plainly said, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” In Peter’s hiding place, he didn’t understand that this included gentiles, apart from circumcision of the flesh and strict dietary laws. Peter presumed that the world would have to be Judaised. Peter’s hidden place is revealed in the context–“no, never.” While the path of Peter to all peoples is through the Jewish people, it doesn’t require the people coming to become Jewish, though they are a full part and inheritance of Israel. Many struggle with this in their hiding places. If we can’t trust Paul’s oft misinterpreted illustration of the olive tree what can we trust? Peter is on the same path.
“And while Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. But arise, go downstairs, and accompany them without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself.’ And Peter went down to the men and said, ‘Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.’ And so he invited them in and gave them lodging.” Peter still is in a fog over the vision not knowing if the men present relate to the vision. It’s why he asks why the men have come. Progressively the purpose is revealed to Peter.
While contemplating the vision, the Spirit spoke. Specifically the Spirit stated that men were coming, sent by the Spirit. Yet Peter was left to contemplate the vision while visiting with the men sent from both Cornelius and the Spirit. Why did God give Peter the vision? Why did God have to tell Peter not to have any misgivings about the men? What was in Peter’s innermost parts–his hiding place that would warrant a vision and a visit from the Holy Spirit? Or was it for our benefit also? Quite obviously it was written for our benefit but remember the genre; historical narrative. These events happened and the response of Peter was genuine. Peter was hungry and presented with the forbidden food from the nations by God, telling him to kill and eat. What was Peter’s response? No, never, just like it was when Jesus said he would be crucified.
God knows what is hidden in our secret selves as he saw in Cornelius and in Peter. We see two different visions but no division. We live, worship, pray based on our presuppositions and preconceived notions. Like Peter, unaware of his antigentilism, we are molded and made based upon what permeates our hiding places. Much like Peter we might miss the mark based on where we aim. Peter aimed too high, expecting the gentiles who would come to the faith, to also become adherents of their form of christianity mixed with Judaism. Yet he also aimed too low, not taking Jesus at his word that they were to preach to all peoples and nations. We must remember the mindset of the apostles when Jesus told them that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the remotest parts of the earth.
“And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’” The mindset of the apostles was still on a restored kingdom of Israel, even though Jesus told them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you aalways, even to the end of the age.”
Where is our mindset in our deepest depths and desires? What do we focus on in our hiding places? Where is our aim focused, at what are we aiming? Because one usually hits that at which he is aiming. If one believes that the world gets worse and worse, with little doubt, one will see the world getting worse–and worse yet, contribute to a downward decline. On the other hand, if we will see what Christ said in the sublime string of Scripture, that the kingdom of heaven progressively prospers through some persecution, our aim and our measurements will see that their is no end to the increase of his government. Presuppositions are the problem. It was the problem for the apostles, Peter and America. If we are measuring our society, in which the Bible is available for free, online, in almost every public library, by the drag-queens in the library, we are measuring wrong, our aim is off. If we pine for the past, for the times of our fathers who would be appalled at the drag-queens in public places, we are fooling ourselves.
Build a time machine and go back, see if your fathers sat in the front of the bus, drank from the white’s only fountain, ate at the white’s only restaurant counter. Or was your father a fearless, black, baptist minister, oppressed by his alleged brothers? Go back a little further. Did your fathers inter the Japanese Americans who came here for freedom? Or was your father in an internment camp, praying for release? Go back further, did your fathers own people, whip them, or rape the women? Did they expel native born Americans off their land? Were there wars and rumors of wars? How much blood was shed during the time of your fathers? How much relative peace do we live in today? “But Russell P, look at Israel and the region today!” I am, and I notice precision, pin-pointed attacks, with much less bloodshed than in the history of hand to hand combat. How far do you want to go back in American history? Should we go on to the atrocities of the world? And why are the atrocities of the nation of Israel never listed with these events by the dogmatic dispensationalists?
The late (for a while it seemed like we would never say that because we thought that the Lord would return during his lifetime), great Billy Graham said that his wife, after reading his writings remarked, “if God doesn’t judge the United States soon, he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” She was speaking on the moral decline of America, but is this how God judges us, and is this even true? I take what Ruth Graham remarked as hyperbole, at least I hope it was hyperbolic, otherwise it was born out of absolute naivety. Please remember that absolute depravity and wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah where the men didn’t want virgins but male-looking angels. Consider the offer made to them, and Abraham’s pleading with God to spare the cities if only 10 righteous people were found–there wasn’t.
If God were to judge by moral decline, even Cornelius stands condemned. Picture your holiest day. If God judged you on only that day alone, could you stand? See the sublime string of a progressive decline of depravity but a glorious moment changed all of that, once and for all, and yet progressively. It is extremely difficult though because it requires us to change our world view. Nevertheless the evidence is there, Peter is on this path, it doesn’t stop because he and Paul wrote of apostasy in the last days. Those passages are ripped out of their context. Those passages actually support the sublime string that the kingdom of God progresses. As an aside, I find it funny that we always quote, “to the Lord a thousand years is like one day” but never, “and one day like a thousand years.” Keep it in context! Apply the author’s aspiration to his audience. Know to whom they were speaking. See what they saw, especially in Paul’s case, he wrote to Timothy, specifically. Did Paul really believe that the absolute end of the world would happen in Timothy’s time? Many, if not most, pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers do. Paul certainly saw the end of the age but not the absolute end of the world. We’re talking about a man who was in the heavens hearing things mortal man cannot repeat, but we know better now, then Paul did then, that Christ’s second coming, I mean rapture rescue, is at hand?
Yes, America will most likely go down, and it will be for reformation and revival, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. Sinners sin, it’s what they are supposed to do. We are called to not judge but to be witnesses. We don’t judge the world, Paul is clear on this, we judge each other and angels. Problem, we don’t know how. Because in our hidden places our instincts are to judge sinners, rather than look into our hiding places to see how depraved we are, yet how glorious and faithful Christ is to forgive.
I don’t know how I pray, honestly. “Search my heart,” the psalmist would say. Yet I still don’t know how to pray. What is in my hiding place, what is in there corrupting the space? My hidden place is seen by the Lord, but it should be filled with him, speaking of him, following him, it should be him. David said it best–a great way to pray.
“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD;’ And You did forgive the guilt of my sin. Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him. You are my hiding place; You do preserve me from trouble; You do surround me with songs of deliverance. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones, And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.”