It’s been a busy half-term week, but there are other things coming up soon.
We will be attending the Christian Life & WItness Training Course on Saturday 29th February at Maltby Full Life Church. This is part of the Franklin Graham mission to the UK and is designed to equip Christians to effectively share their faith with others. It is a free and easy three-hour session open to all people. Please do come along to this course between 9.30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. and if you need a lift, just let us know! Even if you don’t want to be part of the actual mission in Sheffield (venue still to be announced, but the date is Saturday 6th June), the course is very useful in giving you the Scriptural assurance and skills to share the gospel with friends and family.
Please pray also for 4FrontTheatre as they return to Goldthorpe to bring their show ‘Fisherman’s Tail’ to Goldthorpe Primary School and Sacred Heart School on Tuesday 3rd March. The show was seen by Thurnscoe and Bolton-on-Dearne schools last year as well as members of the community, so we’re excited to be able to give local children the opportunity to learn about the life of Jesus through the eyes of those fishermen disciples.
The Women’s World Day of Prayer will be on Friday 6th March at 11.15 a.m. at Goldthorpe Parish Church on Lockwood Road. The service is open to all – not just women! Written by Christians from Zimbabwe, this year’s service looks at the healing of a paralysed man: ‘Rise! Take up your mat and walk.’
Looking further ahead, the next ‘Churches Together’ Day of Prayer will be on Friday 3rd April at Furlong Road Methodist Church between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. There will be many prayer stations and opportunities to pray individually, with others and in different creative forms.
Cornelius is described in Acts 10:2 as devout and God-fearing. His burgeoning belief in the God of the Jews was evidenced by his lifestyle: ‘he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.’ (Acts 10:2) Nonetheless, he had not become a Jew and been circumcised and therefore to Jewish eyes, he was still pagan.
Many people can pinpoint the exact moment they became a Christian (and for Cornelius, this was a very precise moment!) What is not often recognised, however, is the journey to faith often involves steps on the way. Luke clearly recognised the value of the movement from paganism to ‘God-fearing’ before Christian conversion, and so should we.
C. S. Lewis is probably one of the most famous ‘gradual’ converts. At the age of seventeen, he was an atheist, declaring to his friend Arthur Greaves, ‘I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.’ In 1929 he described himself as a ‘dejected and reluctant convert’, believing in God, but not yet in Christ. It was only in 1931 that he became a Christian and subsequently became one of the most famous apologists for Christ in recent times.
Life is a journey and we may not know where on that journey to Christ an individual is. We should not despise those who, like Cornelius, still have some way to go, but we can seek to point everyone to Jesus as they travel.
God works with perfect timing in many different ways, timing that often involves years of divine preparation. We see how God’s timing was at work in the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10). He sent an angel to speak to Cornelius and tell him to send for Peter. Twenty-one hours later, with the men sent by Cornelius already en route from Caesarea to Joppa, God gave Peter a vision which would shake his Jewish principles to the core. While Peter was praying and seeing his vision, the men from Cornelius were approaching the city. While Peter was perplexed about the meaning of what he had seen, they arrived at the house. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him the men were looking for him and to go with them without hesitation. When Peter went down and introduced himself to them, they explained the purpose of their visit to him. All of this was divine preparation to persuade Peter that he should not call unclean anything God had called clean (Acts 10:28) so that he would be willing to go and preach the gospel to Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a Gentile.
Often, it’s this timing and set of apparent ‘coincidences’ which help us to see God’s plan being outworked. In my own life, I see how God put different people in my path at different times to lead me to Him, preparing my heart, using my life experiences and background to bring me to faith. Circumstances and people may well seem random to us at times, but in God’s great tapestry, the strands are woven together to produce a picture that makes perfect sense. Every now and again, as in this story, the veil is lifted back so we can see how those strands are being woven together and we marvel at the intricacy and majesty involved. We who are bound by the linear progression of time sometimes find this hard to accept, but nothing is too difficult for God.
God is still working in divine preparation to bring people to Him. Could you be the next link in the chain?
It’s hard not to have personal preferences for all manner of things (colours, music, food, clothes) and most of the time, this is simply one way in which we express our own individuality. This can easily lead to having favourite things, but it becomes much more difficult when we move on to favourite people! Parents who have favourite children (and make this visible, as Jacob did, for example, with Joseph) often end up causing more problems than they solve, with the favourite being at risk of becoming spoilt and arrogant and everyone else feeling jealous, resentful and insecure.
We may feel that God has favourites: doesn’t the whole of the Old Testament imply this, in choosing to bless Abraham and through his seed calling Israel to be a holy nation? We may feel that God is the ultimate example of showing favouritism and end up either smug because we are part of His chosen people or resentful because we are not. But this is a very simplistic reading of the Scriptures.
Abraham was chosen not only to receive God’s blessing but to be a blessing: ‘all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ (Gen 12:3) The nation of Israel, who received God’s love and covenant, was called to be His light to the whole world. Although by the time of Jesus the religious hierarchy separated the world into ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’ (everyone who was not a Jew!), this did not mean that God loved one and not the other. Peter came to realise that ‘God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’ (Acts 10:34-35) and part of the revolutionary truth of the gospel was that God’s invitation was extended to all people, whose response was based on repentance and faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ (‘Lord of all’) rather than on circumcision and birth.
In our multi-cultural, multi-racial society, it can be hard to grasp how revolutionary this teaching was (and still is!) Peter witnessed the Holy Spirit coming on Cornelius and those gathered as he was speaking and there was no way he could refute what God was doing. (Acts 10:44-47) Paul would go on to make explicit what happened on that day in many of his letters (see Romans 9-11, Eph 2:11-23), but this was a historic moment when so many prophecies began to be fulfilled and the liberating work of the gospel began to spread towards Rome, the centre of the civilised world at that time.
Acts 10 tells us the story of how the first Gentile (Cornelius) became a Christian and the extraordinary methods God used to bring this event to pass. We have already seen (Acts 8) how God used supernatural methods to heal the Jewish-Samaritan rift and to bring the gospel to an Ethiopian individual, but now we see centuries of division, hatred and prejudice broken as God uses Peter to bring the gospel to a Roman centurion.
It’s ironic that the angelic vision given to Cornelius, instructing him to send for Peter, staying with a tanner called Simon at Joppa, although terrifying, is received with prompt obedience (Cornelius was used to giving commands and responded to the specific commands given to him with commendable promptness) whilst Peter, on the other hand, needs a vision of bewildering proportion (involving a trance, a sheet filled with all kinds of ceremonially unclean animals, reptiles and birds and the apparently bizarre command to kill and eat these) which is repeated three times and then the remarkable timing of three men appearing at Simon’s house and the Spirit’s prompting to go with them before he has even the faintest inkling of what is going on! This story gives us insight into the extraordinary lengths to which God will go to reach people (not surprising when we think of the whole salvation story, which involved Jesus leaving the splendour of heaven to put on human flesh, as Phil 2:6-11), but which nonetheless leaves us in awe and wonder. Peter only really understands all that has happened when he says, ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’ (Acts 10:34-35) and subsequently see the Holy Spirit fall on this group of uncircumcised men. (Acts 10:47) He has been part of God’s marvellous plan to bring salvation to all people, fulfilling His promises to bless all the earth through Abraham (Gen 12:1-5).
This story is so remarkable it features again in Acts 11 and becomes the point at which the church finally begins to understand what Jesus meant by being witnesses to the far ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) The implications of God accepting Gentiles without the need for circumcision would take years to be worked out fully, but the truth that God has no favourites and is willing to accept all who will believe is one that needs shouting from the rooftops! The church is a multi-racial, multi-cultural organism. Every nation, tribe, people and language will one day stand before the throne in worship (see Rev 5:9, Rev 7:9) and Cornelius will surely be there among them!
The Message Bus was great and we had well over 100 children and young people in all 3 locations.
Our thanks to the many volunteers from different churches who helped with the event and to Jack from the Message Trust for bringing the bus to us!