Priscilla Gains a Brother

Blind Faith (No. 29, 2016)
Weekly Devotional for July 21, 2016
Priscilla Gains a Brother

[The following is based upon events recorded in Acts 10. It is historical
conjecture about the personal faith development of Priscilla and other 1st
century followers of Jesus.]

Priscilla’s father was eager to welcome the centurion arriving
from Caesarea to replace him in his duty post with the roman garrison in
Jerusalem. He had arranged for some local women to prepare a celebrative
kosher dinner to acquaint his successor with some of the customs of people
in his new jurisdiction. As usual, her father was a gracious host. Still, he
was glad to be rejoining the legion at Caesarea and returning to Rome. His
assignment in Jerusalem had been tumultuous. Uprisings by various Zealot
groups posed a constant threat. What looked at first like a serious
challenge to Roman rule behind a popular Nazarene rabbi had crumbled at the
rabbi’s astonishing crucifixion. Aftershocks rumbled through Jerusalem at
the next festival when more than 3,000 people professed to believe that the
rabbi Jesus was alive, having been resurrected by their God to deliver them.
Priscilla’s father still didn’t know what to make of all of it. He was more
than ready to get back to Rome.

Priscilla, on the other hand, was clamoring to learn all she
could about Jesus and what it meant to follow Jesus’ way of life. She had
heard one of Jesus’ followers, Simon Peter, speaking flawless Latin when he
preached on the day of Pentecost say, “Anyone who calls on the name of the
Lord will be saved. {39} even the Gentiles–all who have been called by the
Lord our God.” (Acts 2:21, 39 NLT) Priscilla had been deeply attracted to
that message. But even though the man had said that God’s way was for
everyone, she thought, wouldn’t she have to become a Jewish convert first?
She didn’t know anyone who could tell her more about practicing this new way
of life faithfully. She wondered what would become of her spiritual
experience when they returned to Rome.

Table conversation between Priscilla’s father and his
replacement ran the familiar gamut. They talked about current events in
Rome. Her father described local customs that had the greatest impact on the
Roman garrison and some local pitfalls to avoid. Inevitably, they shared
some war stories and news of fellow centurions with whom both had served.
That brought up a story about a centurion her father had always admired who
had been stationed in the regional capitol at Caesarea. The centurion taking
her father’s duty had been surprised to learn that Cornelius, the officer in
Caesarea, had become so closely aligned with the Jewish religion and now
appeared to have taken keen interest in the way of Jesus – whatever that was
all about!

“Sounds like Cornelius’ field assignment went a little too
long,” the newly arrived centurion said. Apparently, he said he had come to
understand, Cornelius had become what the Jews called a Gentile
“God-fearer.” He had become a man of prayer, and he studied the Hebrew
Scriptures intently and adopted many of their religious practices. The whole
Jewish community in Caesarea admired his faithful observances, especially
his generosity. One day he had some kind of vision during his prayer time.
He understood that he was to send a delegation to the nearby coastal town of
Joppa to find a man who was staying with Simon Tanner. The representatives
were to bring a man named Simon Peter back to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea,
and the man would tell them a vital word from God. Cornelius sent two of his
own servants plus a soldier under his command who was also a God-fearer to
get the man from Joppa.

While the entourage was nearing Joppa, the centurion continued,
it seems that this Simon Peter was also having a vision. He saw a cloth
descending from heaven with lots of

animals in it that Jews are not supposed to eat. But a voice from heaven
told Peter to kill and eat some of them. He objected, but was told that
anything in the sheet had been made clean by his God. This happened three
times. Then he was told that the delegation from Cornelius was arriving and
that he should go with them back to Caesarea. The next morning they went
back, taking six of Peter’s fellow Jesus-followers with them. Meanwhile,
Cornelius had gathered all of his family and friends to hear what Peter
might have to say. After some awkward greetings and some words about a Jew
like Simon Peter not usually paying a visit to a Gentile’s house they each
told about the visions they had seen. They interpreted the visions to mean
that God was OK with the whole event, and Peter began to tell Cornelius and
the people he had gathered about Jesus. The centurion telling the story was
sketchy about the details of what Simon Peter had said. Priscilla would hear
better verbatim accounts later, and would read the account in Dr. Luke’s
book called The Acts of the Apostles. Peter’s message was this: ”

To God every person is the same. {35} In every country God accepts anyone
who worships him and does what is right.. 36b [This is] the Good News that
peace has come through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lord of all people!…
{38} You know about Jesus from Nazareth, that God gave him the Holy Spirit
and power. You know how Jesus went everywhere doing good and healing those
who were ruled by the devil, because God was with him.. In Jerusalem [Jesus
was] killed by hanging him on a cross. {40} Yet, on the third day, God
raised Jesus to life and caused him to be seen.. We are those witnesses who
ate and drank with him after he was raised from the dead. {42} He told us to
preach to the people and to tell them that he is the one whom God chose to
be the judge of the living and the dead. {43} All the prophets say it is
true that all who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins through
Jesus’ name.” (Acts 10:34-43 NCV)

“You won’t believe what Cornelius and his people are saying
happened next,” the centurion demurred. “Weren’t there reports of some
bizarre dancing-fire event stirring up the Nazarene’s people at the most
recent festival in Jerusalem? Cornelius’ group claim the same thing happened
to them at his house while Simon Peter was talking. I’ve never heard
anything like it! Now Cornelius and his household are immersed in following
‘the way’ of Jesus.”

Priscilla’s heart leapt when she heard the centurion’s story.
Cornelius and her father were fellow officers and good friends. They would
be going back to Rome with their Italian legion and very likely would remain
in the same contingent of soldiers and families. The new centurion had said
that Simon Peter and his friends had stayed with Cornelius for several days.
She knew from her father that Cornelius was a thorough “detail man” who
would glean all he could about Jesus from his guests who had traveled with
Jesus for years. Priscilla could learn from Cornelius much more about the
life of Jesus and what following Jesus’ way would mean for her. She was just
learning about praying to God whom she now knew in her heart, but she
joyfully prayed, “Thank you, God, for Cornelius and his family of believers.
Please make me a part of their family of faith as we move to Rome. Help me
to learn about Jesus and how to be a faithful follower of his way of life.
Amen.” Her prayer life would grow and deepen as her faith matured. For now,
though, she sensed reassuring spiritual comfort, knowing that she had
brothers and sisters in faith soon heading for Rome. She could grow in faith
as a new community of Jesus-followers settled into that different world.

Note the thrust of Peter’s message to Cornelius’ gathering of
spiritual seekers. God’s grace is for all people, wherever they may be.
Faith in Jesus offers new life for all who believe. Everyone can be immersed
in God’s Spirit. Have you found a family of faith – brothers and sisters in
Christ – with whom you can mature as a follower of Jesus? Are you ready to
take the good news of Jesus into new surroundings with you and a family of
faith?

– J. Edward Culpepper

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