Luke / Acts – A model for mission (6)
If the gospel in Samaria was the first great breakthrough for the Christian community, then the second breakthrough, the first Roman accepting Christ, was equally important. If I’m not mistaken (I’m fairly sure that I’m right, but I couldn’t confirm it), it was Lesslie Newbigin who first referred to the three-fold conversion taking place in Acts 10 & 11. The story starts with two visions. Cornelius, a Roman centurion, had a vision in which he was told to fetch Peter from a house in Joppa. He immediately sent three people to fetch Peter. The following day Peter also had a vision. He saw a large sheet coming down from heaven containing all kinds of animals and reptiles. He was told to eat the food, but Peter responded by saying: “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” God answered: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:13-15).
Shortly after the men from Cornelius turned up and after sleeping over, they went to Cornelius. After hearing what Cornelius had to tell him, Peter said: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35). This could be considered as the first conversion in this story – Peter making a 180 degree turn from his previous viewpoint.
After hearing about Jesus, Cornelius and his household also came to repentance – the second conversion. At that time another Pentecost experience took place: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” (Acts 10:44-46)
Now Peter and the others returned home, probably thinking that the church leaders in Jerusalem would be very excited about the news. But this was not so. Peter was severely criticised for what he had done. Only after Peter had told the entire story, did the church accept what had happened and their response was: “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18). This could be considered as the third conversion taking place in this story: First Peter, then Cornelius and his household and then the entire church in Jerusalem. And in between, because this is a major breakthrough in the expansion of Christianity, we find a third (and last) Pentecost experience.
Formerly I would have stopped the story at this point, saying that from Acts 10 – 28 we find the story of Christ being proclaimed to the ends of the earth. But lately I have seen that there is much more to this story. I will come to that in my next post.
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