Peter and Cornelius
The Two Worlds Touch (Acts 10:17-23a)
God has providentially intervened in the Gentile and Jewish worlds, setting them on a collision course. No human being could have possibly foreseen the implications of this act. No human being was ready within context of their own experience to comprehend just what was occurring. Only in hindsight can we prejudiced, faltering and foolish humans see a sliver of truth about what God has done. However, without the revelation of Scripture even that tiny sliver would have been obliterated long ago.
17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”
The wonder of this narrative is that it pulls back the curtain and allows us mortals to observe God’s providential engagement in human history. What we see is both beautiful and disturbing. It’s beauty arises from the Fatherly love that engages with both Cornelius and Peter at their points of human frailty, gently leading each towards their eventual world-changing encounter. Its disturbance arises from the at first vague, but ultimately explicit, realization that both Peter’s and Cornelius’ destinies were being directly determined by God. This intricate but ultimately mysterious interplay between our own wills and God’s providential purpose has been previously explored in “God’s Acts of Providence.”
That significance flowed from God to them, as opposed to being sourced within them. This too is a reproach to our modern, self-centered mind-set. We too often view our end as beginning and ending with our own desires. The notion that our end is by design to be subordinate to anything else, even the L ORD God, flies into the teeth of the radical individualism that under girds so much of our culture’s life.
But lest we too strongly stress humanity’s subordinate status, the amazing extent to which God apparently bends to accommodate our wills must be accounted. Yes, God’s will is inexorable. But it’s as if it’s inexorable within the context of our free wills.
Isn’t this story precisely that of God’s inexorable providential will intersecting with our one free wills? I say, yes, without doubt.
21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he called them in to be his guests.
Note how the people within this story exercise their own wills. The men sent by Cornelius don’t say that Peter must engage with them because of God’s inexorable command. No, they rather make the very human case that he who sent them is “an upright and God-fearing man,” that is, someone who Peter should consider to be trustworthy.
Thus, on one level this is a story about human beings from two separate worlds working out the terms by which they might meet in true fellowship. However, at the deepest level it is the story of God bringing to pass in time that which He had decreed from eternity.
“and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)
Once again, I return to “God’s Acts of Providence” for the commentary.
In the end, we must understand along with Abraham that the human details are not the point. The point is that God in His infinite love, mercy and power has determined to bless all nations. He has also chosen to do so within the context of human will, with all of its frailty, foolishness and fickleness. But He chose to do so before the foundation of the world was laid, deep inside the mystery of His infinite mind. That is, though played out on the stage of history, this is the working out of a predestined plan. Though we may never fully understand we can, no, must worship such a wondrous God.