The raising of Tabitha from the dead had also strategically placed Peter in Joppa – part of modern-day Tel Aviv. The stream of new disciples that resulted from her spectacular resurrection needed leading and wielding together into a local church, so Peter planned to stay quite a while there, at the home of his friend Simon the Tanner.
A devout God-fearing Roman centurion was based 30 miles away in Caesarea and practised a lifestyle of generous giving to the poor, and regular daily prayer. He was neither a Christian, nor a Jew at this point, but he respected Judaism and believed in God. Acts 11:14 later makes it clear that he was not yet saved.
God broke straight into his life with an angelic message: “Go and find Peter and listen to what he tells you”. It is interesting that the angel could have preached the good news directly to Cornelius then and there, but God chose not to do that. He usually reserves that privilege for his own children, perhaps for the good reason that those who have already been recipients of his grace are best placed to describe it to others.
Peter, meanwhile, had been having some revelation of his own. He was sent a weird vision of edible and non-edible animals (for a Jew, at least) to stimulate him to think about who and what was acceptable to God. In these ways, the Lord prepared a hated people group – the Gentiles – to request help from the people group who most hated them – the Jews – whilst simultaneously preparing the Jews to accept those people they had previously rejected. Uniting people in this way is something that the Lord is particularly keen on!
Arriving as guest of honour at Cornelius’ house, Peter humbly began his presentation of the good news by sharing this latest revelation that ‘God does not show favouritism’. He then described the key points in the life of Jesus and moved swiftly to end with the need for Cornelius’ household to respond to the gospel. Before Peter could finish, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening and filled every member of the household, causing them to speak in tongues and praise God.
This was exactly what the original church in Jerusalem had experienced and they could not therefore deny that the Gentiles had received Christ as Saviour in just a valid a way. It also proved to Peter (and later, to Paul) that no aspect of Judaism was needed for salvation; God had instead given these Gentiles a ‘short cut’ to himself. Therefore, in response, Peter had little choice but to baptise them. This Gentile ‘Pentecost’ was equally important to the one in Samaria (Acts 8), and both were used by God to demonstrate that there was one church, united by the one Holy Spirit.
2 SAMUEL 24
What was wrong with David counting the number of fighting men in Israel? Why did God get so angry when David took a census of his warriors? It is certainly interesting that this all happens in the context of God being angry, not with David, but with Israel – for reasons unknown. Perhaps it was for taking sides with Absalom against God’s anointed king. 1 Chronicles 21:1 states that Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census; in 2 Samuel, it states that God himself incited David. Is there a contradiction? No. We do not believe in a dualist kind of divine setup (good god verses bad god). We believe in the supreme God, the Creator of everything – even of Satan before he fell – who is in complete and sovereign control of our universe, physical and non-physical. Satan, therefore, is merely a created being who is very powerful, but no match for the Lord himself; Satan can only do anything with God’s express permission and has a restricted authority for a time on this earth. Therefore, if Satan incited David, it was because the Lord allowed it and used it for his own purposes.
The reason God himself was offended was probably because it was occasioned by David’s pride and a tendency to put his trust in human military numbers, rather than in God himself. The Lord was the true King of Israel and David was anointed to rule under his authority; for David to take that particular census must have been offensive to God and an attempt to usurp God’s rule and position. Even the power-hungry, scheming Joab had the sense to question David’s judgment on this one and to realize that it would bring guilt upon the nation. The census took more than nine months!
No sooner was David’s conscience pricked than the Prophet, Gad, brought a word of judgment from the Lord – giving David a choice of punishments for Israel (not for David). David chooses a completely divine punishment, reasoning that evil men would not have the mercy that God would. So a great plague begins, delivered by an angel, who finally stands against Jerusalem itself awaiting God’s command to completely destroy it. God tells Gad to tell David to offer a sacrifice quickly.
Looking around for a suitable venue, David spots the piece of land that the Lord has indicated and purchases it from its owner; it is the land on Mount Moriah where much earlier Abraham offered his son Isaac, and where much later, God offered his Son Jesus. It is also likely to be the place where the first temple was built. A precious place! David would not offer a sacrifice that cost him nothing – or else it wouldn’t be a sacrifice, would it! – and so he purchased the threshing floor and everything on it and the land around it. The sacrifice was accepted, the punishment ended, and the plague stopped.