How easily do you change your mind? For some people, when their mind is made up, that's it! There's no going back! Others decide to do something and then are quickly swayed by the next person who comes along.
One year I had cause to go to K-Mart Cannon Hill the day after Boxing Day. It was quite simple really. There was something I had bought - nothing to do with Christmas! - and it hadn't worked or wasn't suitable (I can't remember which). I walked in to the Service Desk and joined a queue that must have been seven deep all the way along! The biggest spending season of the year - but all the gifts given on the same day, Christmas Day - meant that there were all these returns to be dealt with on 27th December! Many of them were returned because they just didn't work, others because they were "not suitable". The person at the desk took your item, wrote a note on a piece of paper, and sent you off to get what you really wanted.
Changing some things is easy. Changing others can be difficult or impossible. Getting peace in Northern Ireland isn't easy. Solving the problems of the former Yugoslavia isn't easy. Returning the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Palestinian rule isn't easy. Why aren't these things easy? Because old convictions and prejudices have resulted in violence and death. It is hard to admit that wrong has been done. It is hard to forgive.
For Peter - and for many others of the early Christians - it was his basic religious convictions, his upbringing and the whole history of the Jewish people that seemed at stake.
At first people who believed in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord were just called "believers" or those who "followed the Way." They were Jews and had been brought up on the Old Testament. They knew that God had promised to send a special Person, the Messiah. Now they also knew that Jesus was the one God had promised. Jesus was the Messiah. And Jesus had died on the cross. That had been rather a shock. They just hadn't understood that as part of God's plan. But they understood it now. Jesus had died for their sins. That was in the Old Testament too. "He endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne... Because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved." (Is.53.4-6)
Jesus, of course, had told them that they were to "go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples." But they hadn't started to do that. There was always something repulsive about meeting or talking with Gentiles - the people from "the nations", the non-Jews. These people hadn't been brought up on the Old Testament. They worshipped other gods. Their moral standards weren't good. They ate foods that were forbidden to the Jews. If ever a Jew met a Gentile in the market-place, he made sure he had a good bath when he got home. He didn't want to be contaminated by anything that might be unclean. But go into a Gentile home - never!
Now that was a curious part. Jesus had nearly done just that. He was on his way to the home of a Roman officer (a believing one who was very supportive of the Jews), but the man then felt unworthy and Jesus did the healing from a distance. So they didn't even have the example of Jesus entering a Gentile home. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they had to work out these things for themselves.
But Jesus didn't come just for the Jews. He came for the Gentiles too. In Acts 9 we read that Peter travelled everywhere and went to visit the Christians in Lydda. There Jesus healed a paralysed man named Aeneas. Then he moved on to Joppa where a Christian woman named Tabitha (or Dorcas) had died. The Lord raised her to life again. "Peter stayed on in Joppa for many days with a tanner of leather named Simon" (Acts 9.43).
About 50 kilometres up the coast was the city of Caesarea. Built by Herod the Great over a period of twelve years, (23-13 B.C.), it had become the Roman headquarters in Judaea.
That was where Cornelius lived. He was "a captain in the Roman regiment called 'the Italian Regiment.' He was a religious man; he and his whole family worshipped God. He also did much to help the Jewish poor people and was constantly praying to God." It was one day when he was praying that he had a vision of an angel directing him to send to Joppa for Simon Peter. He had never heard of Peter before, but he got two trusted servants and one of his soldiers and sent them off.
Next day as they were coming near to Joppa, Peter was praying on the roof top of the house - houses had flat roofs and it was a nice quiet spot. Peter had a vision of this large sheet full of all kinds of animals, reptiles and wild birds. A voice said, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat!" But he protested, "Certainly not, Lord! I have never eaten anything ritually unclean or defiled." Then the voice said, "Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean." This happened three times. What might it mean?
Just then visitors arrived and called out, "Is there a guest here by the name of Simon Peter?" The Spirit said, "Three men are looking for you. Don't hesitate to go with them." So these three Gentiles were invited to stay the night and Peter went off with them to Caesarea the next day.
Peter took a bit of persuading. It was against his upbringing. He thought it was against his faith, even though he now believed in Jesus. He went into Cornelius' house and preached the good news of Jesus to them and they believed.
There were a number of very important things that Peter and the other Jewish Christians had to learn. As we read on in Acts, we realise that changing their mind wasn't easy. What God was saying to them through the conversion of Cornelius was important to them - and to us!
That, of course, begins with believing the good news ourselves and welcoming Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. Have you done that? Then are you ready to reach out with his love to others?
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