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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

God's Power Is Amazing

In my continuing efforts to grow closer to God, and to gain a better understanding of Catholicism, I have been studying the Bible. Currently I am studying Acts, the acts of the apostles. As you know, Acts describes the spread of Christianity from the original 12 apostles and 70 or so disciples to the world. It is a truly amazing recounting of the changes that took place in all of Jesus's disciples.

For example we have the original 12 apostles. Terrified. Hiding in a room. Afraid for their very lives. After all, they followed Jesus, who was crucified! But, after they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they boldly went out and proclaimed the Gospel. And, they were unafraid to be confronted by the authorities, to the point of the apostles defending their own actions and calling out the authorities.

Then there is the apostle Paul. He was originally not only a non-believer of Jesus, but actively prosecuted, imprisoned, and voted for the death sentence for the believers. Again, God came to him, took away his sight, and showed him the truth about Jesus Christ. Saint Paul went on to become probably the greatest evangelist of the Gentiles that there ever was.

These two are pretty clear in the Bible. But there are other more subtle revelations that one must think about, look for or, in my case, be told. The events in chapter 10 of Acts contain one such revelation.

Chapter 10 begins describing how Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a Gentile, was instructed by God to send some men to Joppa to summon Simon Peter. In a dream, Simon Peter was instructed by God to take the message of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. When the men sent by Cornelius requested that Peter accompany them, he agreed to go. Simon went to the house of Cornelius, ate with him, then proceeded to preach to Cornelius, his family, and others, and converted them to Christianity; in fact, the Holy Spirit descended upon the household in a manner similar to what had occurred with the disciples on Pentecost.

When I first read this, my thinking was 'This is good. Peter is spreading the Word to the Gentiles'. But, upon further reading, contemplation and instruction, it became clear to me how big this event was. Peter was a Jew, and a devout follower of Jewish law. According to Jewish law, it was forbidden for Jews to be with, and especially to eat with, Gentiles. Eating and associating with Gentiles would render Peter spiritually and ritually unclean, since the Jews following only Jewish law were not righteous enough to overcome the unrighteousness of the Gentiles. This is not like going out to dinner with your friend that supports your team's competitor. The act of eating and associating with Gentiles was against everything that the early Jews were taught to believe. 

Could you do that? If God called you, would you be able to go into the home of your adversary and preach to them? Especially if their culture was completely different from yours – if they ate foods foreign and possibly disgusting to you; if their habits were strange or even sickening? Could you? I don't know if I could. But Peter did. All because of the awesome power of God working through Peter.