Check out this video entitled “Jesus vs Christians,” a collection of man-on-street interviews.[Read more…] about Video: Jesus VS Christians – Man on the Street Interviews
I’ve been doing a lot of meditating on the story of Ethiopian Eunuch, a man so spiritually thirsty that he is eager for a Christian to explain about Jesus and quick to want to follow.
Saturday, I met a man who comes to our little Spanish church (not one of the men in the picture below).
He’s been coming for a few weeks and over dinner was the first chance we had to talk.[Read more…] about Spiritual Thirst: I can’t silence the pain
Cornelius was a centurion (soldier) for Rome. Luke tells us the story of Cornelius and how the gospel was shared with him.
The town was Caesarea.
“He and his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”
He was a religious man, doing spiritual practices, and the term “God-fearer” indicates that he was a Gentile who had converted to Judaism.
He found himself in a deep religious tradition, practicing its ways.
In a day of prayer, an angel of the Lord directs him to a particular man, in a particular town, in a particular house. Is that guidance any more clear?
When they meet (23-26), Peter explains the facts about Jesus – “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (v.36).
Peter explains some of the historical events that happened (37-41) and how he was given the message to “testify that Christ is the one whom God has appointed judge of the living and the dead . . . [those] who believe in him receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The Holy Spirit falls on all who heard the message and people take baptism (v.48) God had given them repentance unto life (11:17)
Cornelius was a spiritual man, one who was very religious.
He was seeking after God and doing spiritual practices.
He has this vision in prayer to find a particular man in a particular town, staying at a particular house. Can you imagine the curiosity, or the dread?
- What for?
- What will he tell me?
- He’s Jewish, what might he want with me, a Roman Gentile?
- Will he even come into my house?
- What does God want to tell me?
Cornelius meets this man who comes to his house, who then begins to explain three things.
- The historical events about the death and resurrection of Christ.
- God has appointed Christ to judge the living and the dead.
- Those who believe in him receive forgiveness of sin through his name.
In Roman culture, there was a big concern about the afterlife – what would happen when you died.
What did you have to pay for the things done in this life?
How Peter shared the gospel
Peter adapted the gospel to address an underlying concern or spiritual thirst that Cornelius likely had.
Peter didn’t explain sin nor use Old Testament law, but approached sin in a different way.
- Sin will be judged, and those who believe will receive forgiveness.
- Repentance is changing your mind as to who you will follow.
- Starting with a concern of Cornelius, Peter presents Jesus as the future judge.
The conversion of Cornelius
The text doesn’t say anything about Cornelius’s individual response.
He is lumped in with “all who heard the message.”
He responded and received the Holy Spirit and likely took baptism with those who were baptized. We can presume that he believed and responded to the message.
Do people in our culture today think about what happens after they die?
I see such questions raised in film (such as Ghost), horror flicks that deal with ghosts, shows on TLC that deal with hauntings and spirits. I hear such questions come up in music and song.
Questions of life after death come to the surface when people begin to reflect how life is so fragile: the accidental death of a loved one, the violent end of a homicide, or mass murder like the Virigina Tech tragedy.
It may not be on the same surface as Cornelius, but a question deep in the heart nonetheless.
Ecclesiastes writes that God has set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot understand it.
“What will you pay for?”
On a plane ride from Chicago to Richmond, my elderly seat mate chatted at me nearly the entire way.
Just after the captain made his pre-landing announcements, she lamented to me over the awful choices she sees her granddaughter making.
Thinking of her granddaughter’s eternity, she sighs,
“I guess we will all have to pay for our actions someday.”
I asked her “What will you have to pay for some day?”
The conversation came to an end at that moment, as the attendants began their pre-landing instructions about seat backs, table trays, collecting debris, and repacking personal belongings.
In the hustle and rustle of the cabin preparations, there was no opportunity to finish.
Let me ask you this?
Do you encounter people who think about having to pay for their actions after they die?
Ask the Lord to open a conversation with someone about these thoughts and feel free to share them here.
For more in the series on Conversion in the NT
The conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch demonstrates the kinds of evangelistic conversations I love to experience.
A spiritually thirsty person is drawn by the Lord to a particular time and place. They are ready to take another step towards Jesus.
At the same time, I am led to meet that person and be the one God uses to bring that person into His kingdom.[Read more…] about Philip And The Ethiopian Eunuch Story
In Acts 17:16, Paul is waiting around Athens, waiting for his friends to arrive, passing time doing the tourism thing.
He notices all
- their idols,
- the architecture,
- the statues,
- smells and sounds of the city.
I can imagine the awe he felt at the architecture, the beauty of the art, and how the noises of the city may have reminded him of his own home.
I’ve been a tourist in many a foreign city and always enjoy trying to learn about the culture where I go. I can imagine some of the feelings Paul felt, some of sounds that he heard, and some of the sights and smells he experienced.
Athens Full of Idols
As he wandered around the city, he notices that the city was “full of idols.”
The NIV says he was “Greatly distressed.”
The Greek word implies an emotional reaction to what he saw.
It is used only 2 times in the New Testament (the other time at 1 Cor 13.5).
It means “to be upset, angered, irritated, or distressed” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains).
Idiomatically, it can mean “his heart was eating him.”
That’s a large range of emotions.
You can be
- upset with grief,
- angered at a wrong,
- irritated by obnoxious things, or
- distressed with fret.
English gives this word a large range of emotional meaning.
The Burden an Intercessor Feels
But what is clear is that Paul got emotionally worked up, so to speak.
Their spiritual blindness didn’t just bother him, it aroused his passions. I can imagine that as he looked them over, he saw how spiritually thirsty the people were. (See What is Spiritual Thirst?)
I can imagine the burden on his heart. To see these people yearning to know God, yet caught up in idolatry.
I can imagine that Paul,
- who has tasted the joy of the grace of God,
- who had Jesus speak to him on the road to Damascus,
- who enjoys a passionate relationship with God,
- who has known the love of Jesus,
was saddened that these Greeks had not yet discovered the same grace of God.
To see their spiritual blindness must have grieved his heart. That is what I imagine to be his “great distress.”
- A grief that they have not experienced God’s grace.
- A sorrow for their spiritual blindness.
- An holy anger that not enough has been done fast enough to share about Christ.
What I imagine [it’s not in the text between verses 16 and 17] is that this drove Paul to prayer.
- Praying for the gospel to go forth.
- Praying to be used in sharing his faith.
- Praying that their eyes would be open to God’s grace.
- Praying that God would make His offer of grace totally irresistible.
This is what happens to me, which is why I can imagine it happening to Paul.
I associate this grief and distress as an intercessory burden for those who do not know Christ. It fuels me for evangelism, which is what Paul begins to do.
Let me ask you this?
If you know and have experienced the grace of God, does your heart get worked up when you see the spiritual blindness of others? What do you do?
What happens next?
When you start praying for people, you’ll begin to have conversations with them about your faith. This is where many people struggle.
This teaching set (download or DVD) can help you have more effective conversations with people when you discern where they are in their spiritual journey. Knowing where they are can help relieve the pressure of any conversation about Christ. Click the banner to read more on how to get this training to help you have better faith sharing conversations
Image of Athens: Flicker, Microbe