The Beginning Of The Ministry Of Paul; The Ministry Of Peter Among The Jewish People: Cornelius, The Beginning Of The Long-Awaited Salvation Of The Gentiles
It is obvious that this is not a perfect world. And it is obvious that none of us are perfect people. What is the source of this imperfection around us and within us? The source of this imperfection isn’t politics or economic injustice or war or terrorism or the environment. The source of our imperfection is our alienation from our Creator. Until we understand this Creator-creature alienation, we won’t take the appropriate action to end our shattered relationship – which is the source of all our problems.
The Word of God reveals the source of the Creator-creature alienation. Very early in human history, our first parents rebelled against our Creator, and became alienated from Him. Sin, confusion, chaos ensued and took control of humanity. Adam and Eve (who were very real people) were alienated from the Creator. Instead of getting closer to God, Adam and Eve ran away from Him. Not just their relationship to God was corrupted, but every aspect of who they were was affected. Their bodies, their souls, their wills, their minds, their spirits – all became corrupted. They were not allowed to eat from the Tree of Life and were exiled from the delightful Garden of Eden. They were not headed toward life but death – the First Death – physical death, followed by the Second Death – Gehenna, Hell, the Lake of Fire (which is also a real place).
The consequences of the alienation of our first parents from the Creator were transmitted to all of their descendants. That ruining of body, soul, will, mind, spirit, relationship to God, that loss of eternal life – all of it was passed on like a horrible disease, infecting all of their descendants – you and me.
Because our alienation from God has so corrupted our nature, there is not enough we can do on our own to end this alienation or its many tragic consequences. We can never be good enough or religious enough to fully atone or end our alienation from the Creator or overcome the real and deadly forces of Satan, sin and death. All human efforts are inadequate.
But what we are utterly incapable of doing on our own, God is completely capable of accomplishing! The good and merciful Creator had a plan to rescue ruined humanity from our horrible and hopeless condition. God the Father sent His eternal Son whom He loves on a great mission to save many human beings. The Son of God left Heaven and through the incarnation, came into this world and became a human being. The Son of God was born into the Chosen People. The young carpenter from Nazareth became Israel’s Messiah – our ultimate Prophet, Priest and King and Savior.
Rabbi Yeshua lived a unique, perfect, one of a kind, sinless, Torah-observing, God-honoring life. Rabbi Yeshua taught us great truths, corrected the errors in the Judaism of His day, and was used by His Father to do tremendous miracles, showing He was close to God, and would be the miraculous Healer and Helper and Savior of humanity and the Restorer Of The Rest Of Creation!
Then, He accomplished His greatest work of all. The Son of God willingly allowed Himself to be whipped, beaten, spit on, humiliated, stripped naked and crucified! By dying in this way, the righteous and holy Messiah became the ultimate sacrifice to fully and completely atone for all of humanity’s sins, and end our alienation from our Creator.
Because He was sinless and perfect and innocent, and always well-pleasing to His Father, death could not hold Yeshua, and the Son of God was resurrected, thereby overcoming our great enemies – Satan, sin and death! This is our true hope!
After the Resurrected Rabbi revealed Himself to His disciples, and gave them further teaching, the Son of God returned to Heaven, to the place of greatest honor and authority – the right hand of God the Father. From there the Father and the Son poured out the Spirit They share on Yeshua’s disciples. With the empowering presence of the Spirit they would continue the Son of God’s great mission to save many of alienated humanity. They would be co-laborers with the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
Those first Messianic Jews became a unified and loving and worshiping and witnessing fellowship that would continue the Messiah’s great mission to bring the Good News of salvation to the world – starting with the Jewish people first, and then extending to the Gentiles.
Messiah’s Holy Community had been growing. Starting in Jerusalem with 120, on Shavuot they had grown to 3,000. With the miracle that took place at the Yaffa (Beautiful) gate, the community had grown to 5,000.
The Yeshua-rejecting leaders of the Chosen Nation didn’t like what was happening, and Peter and John were arrested and tried before Israel’s Senate, the Sanhedrin. After hearing from Peter and John, the political and religious leaders of the Chosen People made their decision: Yeshua would not be acknowledged as the Messiah. Yeshua’s resurrection would not be acknowledged. Yeshua’s followers would be rejected by the leaders and the majority of the people who trusted the leaders. Yeshua’s followers would be threatened with punishments and ostracism to try and intimidate them into silence or compliance.
After this all 12 emissaries were arrested, put on trial, and after being whipped, were released. Then Stephen, one of the Seven Servants, was arrested, tried and executed. That day, a great persecution broke out against the Messianic Jews in Jerusalem. Men and women were arrested, imprisoned, and some were executed.
The Jerusalem congregation scattered. As they scattered, they brought the message of reconciliation with God everywhere they went – including to the people of Samaria. The Samaritans were a people of mixed Jewish and Gentiles heritage, and many of them accepted Israel’s Messiah. So, not only was the message spreading geographically, but it was also spreading beyond Israel’s ethnic boundaries- which was exactly what God had intended from the beginning! The people who were chosen were fulfilling our calling to be a light to the other nations of the world – and that was a tremendous thing!
One of the leaders of the anti-Yeshua persecution was Rabbi Paul. Although he didn’t start that way, he would become one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was very special Jewish man whom the Lord had chosen to bring the Message of Salvation to the nations of this fallen world. He would have a great impact on both Jews and Gentiles. The Three-In-one God would used this great Greek and Hebrew speaking Rabbi to expand the truth throughout a large part of the Roman world, and plant communities of Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians. His great understanding would come to us in the form of much of the Divine Revelation in the New Testament.
God is greater than man, and righteousness is greater and than evil, and so on the way to Damascus, to stamp out Messiah’s followers there, the Son of God appeared to this Rabbi who had been opposing Him. Paul was supernaturally blinded, and after three days of fasting, one of Yeshua’s disciples laid his hands on Paul, and the great rabbi from Tarsus was enabled to see again. His spiritual eyes were now fully open, and immediately Paul began to boldly proclaim to the Jewish community of Damascus that Yeshua was the Son of God, proving from the Scriptures and maybe from his own experience that Yeshua is the Messiah. Well, this dramatic turn-around of this deadly anti-Messianic adversary caused a huge impact on the Jewish community of Damascus. And, in a fallen and satanically-controlled world, effective and bold proclamation about Yeshua will inevitably provoke a response – as it did there.
When many days had elapsed, the non-believing Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples (Paul was a very gifted Rabbi, and already he had disciples – students who looked to him as their teacher) took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
And, when a door is shut in one place, it often will open in another. When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles (the Messiah’s representatives and emissaries) and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Yeshua. So, wise and encouraging Barnabas vouched for Paul, that he was not a spy who was trying to infiltrate and destroy the community, and that Paul’s faith was genuine, and so Paul was graciously accepted into the Jerusalem community that he once persecuted. By the way, for the past several years, spies have been infiltrating the Messianic Jewish communities in Israel, trying find out who the believers are. The spies have been reporting their findings to anti-Messianic organizations which then report to the Ministry of the Interior – which has been causing problems for some of the believers in Israel.
This great Jewish rabbi from Tarsus was uniquely gifted to speak to almost everyone – Hebrew-speaking Jewish people, and Greek-speaking Jewish people. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews. And, because he was so gifted to declare the truth to so many, in a world system that opposes the truth, there was a response to his bold proclamation: But they were attempting to put him to death. And, when a door to serve the Lord in one place is shut, it often will open in another. But when the brothers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.
Now, Luke gives us another progress report. So the church (the community of those who are called out by the eternal God to experience salvation and everlasting life) throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. The Community continued growing. It expanded throughout the nation and beyond – to all Judea and Galilee and Samaria. The persecutions ended for a time and the community enjoyed a time of peace. It continued to be faithful to the Lord, respecting Him and His Word. In spite of the persecutions they had endured, they were comforted by the presence of the Holy Spirit, who was very close to them, and who lived in them, who was pleased with them; the Indwelling Spirit whose presence and approval comforted by them guaranteeing them eternal life. As you examine your life, can you say that you are going on in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit?
Like Paul, Peter was another one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was one of the leaders among the apostles. He was given great spiritual authority. He was empowered to do many and great miracles. He was a writer of parts of the New Testament. Although his primary sphere of ministry was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, like Paul, he too was uniquely used by God to reach both Jews and Gentiles. This man, to whom the “keys of the Kingdom” were given, used those keys to open the first doors of salvation to the Jewish people, and then to the Samaritans, and then to the Gentiles. Peter was the one who gave the great message on Shavuot when the Good News about the Messiah was accepted by 3,000 Jewish people, and the Holy Spirit was given. Peter was chosen to make sure the Holy Spirit was given to those in Samaria. Now Peter was being prepared for something monumental, something unprecedented – opening the doors of salvation to the nations of the world who so desperately need Messianic salvation!
But, before that Peter would continue his great ministry to the Jewish people. Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Messiah Yeshua heals you; get up and make your bed”. Immediately he got up. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. What was the meaning of this miracle? Because of our sin and rebellion against God, humanity is like Aeneas – crippled, paralyzed and unable to function the way we were intended to. Yeshua is the Messiah and Savior and Healer of humanity. Even though He died, the Messiah is alive, and is real, and is still doing miracles – but now that healing of humanity takes place through Yeshua’s earthly representatives. He and they will bring ultimate healing and restoration and blessing to those in the world who believe in Yeshua. That is what this great miracle meant.
But, in a sense, humanity is much worse off than merely being paralyzed. We are dead – spiritually dead because of our trespasses and sins. If we are to rise from the dead and experience a new kind of life, all of us, even the best of us, need the Jewish Messiah working through His Community of the Redeemed to restore us to that life – as this next incident illustrates. Now in Yafo (on the Mediterranean, just south of current day Tel Aviv) there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas
So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise”. And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. Praise the Lord! The powerful force of death had been overcome for faithful and good Tabitha! And, death can and will be defeated for all those, who like Tabitha, have faith in the Son of God and experience the ministry of the Son of God that is at work through the faithful remnant who serve Him! Do you have faith in the Son of God? Do you know Him? Trust Him?
This great miracle made an impact beyond the believing community who were present that great day. It became known all over Yafo, and many believed in the Lord. And Peter stayed many days in Yafo with a tanner named Simon. Wow! More and more Jewish people were coming to a saving knowledge of the Messiah! But, now it was time for something even greater, something long anticipated by the prophets, to occur. Israel, the Chosen People, would continue to fulfill our part in the plans of God, being a light to the nations, bringing the truth about the God Who Alone Can Save to the nations of the world who were in a state of darkness, confusion and death. Now it was time for the Lord’s salvation to extend beyond the holy nation and be given to the other nations of the world.
This breakout of messianic salvation to the Gentiles would come through two special men who were being prepared for this historic moment in the history of salvation – Jewish Peter and Gentile Cornelius. Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion (an officer over 100 soldiers) of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household. That attitude toward the Jewish people was unusual. Most Romans didn’t respect us. But this Roman officer did not look down on the conquered Jewish people and our invisible God, but respected the God of Israel and was kind to us. And, he encouraged his family to show the same kind of faith and respect. And, he did even more. And he gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. What a very special non-Jewish man, and worthy to be imitated! Do you have faith in the Creator like Cornelius? Do you pray to him regularly? In spite of the lack of faith of the majority of the Jewish people, do you have respect for us, and God’s continued plans and purposes for us? Are you a generous, charitable person?
Like with Tabitha, Cornelius’s spirituality and good deeds caught the attention of Heaven. This is part of the reason why this man was chosen to receive the singular honor to be the first Gentile to experience messianic salvation! Again, this should motivate us to do be people who respect God, are generous and pray. About the ninth hour of the day (3:00 in the afternoon) he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, Cornelius”! And fixing his gaze on 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. Cornelius’s spirituality and good deeds caught the attention of Heaven. Now dispatch some men to Yafo and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea”.
The Father or the Son of God don’t normally bring the Good News to human beings directly. Angels don’t normally bring the Good News to human beings directly. That great responsibility and honor has been given to us – the sons and daughters of God. A man like Peter was needed to bring the Message about Messianic Salvation to Cornelius. And, even though Peter was wise and bold and filled with the Holy Spirit, and dedicated to proclaiming the Good News to Jewish people, because what was about to happen was so radical, Peter would need a dramatic revelation to prepare him to bring the Good News about the Jewish Messiah to those of humanity who had not received it – the Gentiles.