David Saunders - Cornelius - Maroona, Australia Convention - 2008

Acts 10, we may be familiar with the story of the Gospel helping Cornelius and his family, and the common thread through this story is that it involved praying people. It seems to fit all the encouragement we have had here so far, to pray. Cornelius had the responsibility of 100 soldiers. He wasn’t a Jew but he knew there was a God in Israel. He prayed to God and tried to live uprightly. Unbeknown to him, Peter was at Joppa, also praying. Cornelius felt moved to pray about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and Peter was moved to pray about lunchtime the next day. We have a lot of help when we pray in the morning, but there are no rules about praying. This story reminds us that God is listening all the time.


One of our faithful old ladies was at Mudgee convention, sitting in a car reading her Bible before the next meeting. She is very frail now and she said to me, “It is some years since I have been able to get on my knees to pray. I can only just sit down and I try and pray through the day but after about five minutes, I lose all concentration. Do you think God will still listen to me?” I remembered staying in their home some years ago during Special Meeting rounds. It was mid-morning and she must have forgotten to close her bedroom door and she was on her knees praying. It touched me that she would be praying for us and the Special Meetings. Now, twenty years later, Satan was getting at this frail old lady because she couldn’t get on her knees any more. It is wonderful how God can give us a simple answer of comfort.


At Booyong convention, one of our friends spoke of having her little boy with her in the tent, and in the middle of the night, he would wake up and reach across and touch her. Everything was dark and strange to him and he just needed some security, so he would just reach out and touch his mother and she could comfort him so he could go back to sleep. I was glad to tell our dear old friend that story. God would love the fact that she wanted to give Him even five minutes through the day. That mother didn’t rouse at her little boy for waking her up, but it was her opportunity to reassure him, and that is how God is.


These two men, Cornelius and Peter, came from completely different backgrounds, nations and cultures, but they had one thing in common – they were praying. To Cornelius’s surprise, God sent an angel that afternoon who called him by name and said, “God has heard your prayers.” We never know who is praying and what is behind people’s experiences. This is the last convention for us and we have our new list and already some have told us about wanting to invite people to the Gospel meetings. God puts new hope into our experiences.


Peter had seen people helped at Joppa and the Lord knew where he was. The angel could have saved Cornelius on the spot, but God’s order was that it would come through a living messenger that was sent by Him. So, to this Roman soldier the message was, “Send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon Peter . . he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.” Cornelius chose three trusted men and sent them to Joppa. This man was very successful and responsible, but that didn’t save him. He needed to hear the Gospel. So, the order of what the Gospel has brought is still the same. They went overnight and when they came to Joppa they made enquiries for Peter. A couple of sister workers in Peru were looking for a contact in sugar cane country. A man said, “Who are you looking for?” The Swiss sister said, “We are looking for some lost sheep!” Before they went away to look for that contact, this man said, “Can you please come back? I think I am a lost sheep.” The servants were looking for lost sheep, and this man was looking for the shepherd.


Peter was not at all equipped for the next Gospel meeting and would never have felt more under-prepared. The message to Cornelius was that Simon Peter would tell him what he ought to do. I am amazed at the confidence in Peter, who had never gone into a Gentile home before, and would have felt it was completely against everything he had ever known to eat and mix with Gentile people. Peter was moved to go onto the roof of the house he was staying in, and he prayed there. God helped him to see that Jesus had died for people of all nations. Peter had heard Jesus say that the Gospel was to go to all nations, but he could have thought it was to the Jews who had been scattered through the nations.


At this particular time, Peter received something that changed his attitude for the rest of his life. We look to Peter to have confidence that we can take the Gospel ourselves, as Gentile people, to Gentiles. While Peter was praying, God chose to reveal that. Never under-estimate the great truths of the Kingdom and the great personal help we can receive in just coming to pray, just to feel God is there and to know reassurance. God’s way of equipping Peter for this mission was to show him all those animals in a great sheet which was held by the four corners, and God emptied it right where Peter was. Peter heard, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.” His initial response was to resist, looking at those unclean animals and birds. But God repeated this three times and said, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” What Peter never forgot was that all those unclean creatures that he would have avoided were all taken up together into heaven. What we understand by that is that God can reach all people, whatever country, whatever culture, whatever tongue. Every one of them that was in God’s hands went back to Him.


So, Peter was then told that three men were looking for him and the Spirit said, “Go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” Peter didn’t tell them to go and find somewhere to stay. Peter was a great man in that he was flexible to whatever God asked of him. He invited these three strangers into the home of Simon the tanner, and we are very grateful for all the homes that we are able to stay in. There aren’t many of us amongst all our friends. If we could extend these walls and ask all six conventions to come here, we would have to make this a huge shed. But I realized that there would be exactly the same number of workers in the same position. This is all there is. It helps me to see the great need of the harvest. This was a Godly home where Peter found a place of quietness to pray, and Simon the tanner and his family welcomed Peter there.


I think of a wonderful experience I had at Blackwater convention in Missouri, USA. In 1935, Clarence Anderson and his companion brought the Gospel to a family and invited them to convention at the end of that year. So they went to their first convention in 1935. At times, some of the preaching was very straight and Clarence feared that these new people could get offended, and when he saw them heading off to their car his heart sank. He said, “Where are you going?” Mr. W said, “We thought we would go and get some soda pop for the children.” So, Clarence left the grounds with these new people and on the way to town he asked, “How is it going?” “We can’t believe how wonderful this is! We were talking together and if you ever want another convention ground, our farm is available.” Clarence told them, “We are looking for somewhere for a convention.” So it was decided that these people who had only been professing a few months, would have a convention on their farm. They went home and dug a huge vegetable garden and they canned vegetables all summer. They were willing to feed everybody for the four days of convention! In 1936, to their amazement, food came in from everywhere. That couple has died, and the next generation had the convention, and now the third generation of the family live there. The fourth generation is coming along now, and it is something special to have little children there. Because the children live there, their little friends come across to the house. The house had a big verandah and they took turns doing laps of the verandah on a very noisy tractor. We were trying to prepare for a meeting and I thought Irving Ross would go out and tell them to go somewhere else, or take the tractor off them. But he told me that four years ago, that family lost a little daughter, a most loved little 4 year-old. They were building a pool and hadn’t yet finished it, and she wandered out there and drowned. Irving told me, “This family really needs to be handled carefully because they are still getting over that loss, and we have to respect that it is not our home. Those children live here. We can put earplugs in and still get ready for the meeting.” So often we would say something, but earplugs are a wonderful thing and you can get used to them! I appreciate this older man’s example in not causing any offence, and his flexibility and respect for that convention home.


Peter would never have considered taking the Gospel to Gentiles, let alone eating with them. But he was willing to go unquestioning. Simon the tanner, and his family, welcomed those three messengers in. Verse 23, “And on the morrow, Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied them.” We can never be grateful enough for the support of our friends at the mission. I see Jim sitting here and remember seeing Jack Nowlan at the Campsie mission, just putting his hand on Jim’s shoulder and saying, “Good to see you, Jim.” I think of that faithful man’s encouragement to someone who was new. In this story, there were friends willing to go with Peter to support the mission. When they got to Caesarea, Cornelius was waiting and he had called not just his kinsmen together, but even some relatives and friends. This was a Gospel meeting with a difference – they were ready and waiting for it! How did he get them to come? There was something in the way Cornelius was able to invite them and it was a very successful mission.


I heard about a medical student who noticed that another student, Craig, didn’t enter into everything that the others did. It intrigued this man, so he got to know Craig. One day, Craig said, “If you had the opportunity to hear something worthwhile, would you come with me?” This man had so much respect for Craig that he said he would, thinking it was a medical lecture. It was a Gospel meeting, and this man is now in the work. We sometimes try and prepare people, as though God couldn’t do that. It would be pretty hard to refuse an invitation like that if you had confidence in the person. Later, Craig said, “I just thought he would be ready.” Another friend, in his work, helps people in difficulty and he just has an invitation and says, “This has helped me a lot. Why don’t you come along and let me know what you think?”


There was something about Cornelius that people respected and maybe they thought they would like to listen also. Cornelius was so grateful that he was going to fall at Peter’s feet and worship him.  But Peter took him up and said, “Stand up; I myself also am a man.” They were all there waiting to hear the word of God. Cornelius knew that God was going to be present with them and he just wanted to hear what God had to say through the messenger. Cornelius knew, as Peter had said, that it was against the Jewish law to do what Peter had done, but Peter had got it clear as he prayed and was sure God would back him up. Cornelius and the others were equally sure that God would back up what he gave to Peter.


Before the law there was no distinction between meats, in Abraham’s day. God had His reasons to bring those distinctions in, but now there is nothing belonging to our faith to say there is any kind of meat we cannot eat. That time of the law has passed and the Gospel has been able to reach us. Peter knew that many of his fellow workers would be right against him, but before he could explain what happened, there was a mission to work. Chapter 11 tells how it was explained and I love the way they all accepted what Peter said, and the confirmation that the Spirit increased their faith just as it did on the day of Pentecost. I am grateful that this chapter can come alive and hope we can apply these things in the new mission year. God can bless our days as we trust Him in the future, so keep on praying and stay close to God.