By Pastor David M. Choi
Luke tells us that Cornelius is a centurion, which means he is a man of war in league with the Roman state. He is a master of slaves (Acts 10:7) and a leader of well-trained soldiers. In many ways, he is what so many of us aspire to be, that is, strong, commanding, self-sufficient, reputable in pedigree, and able to attract the eyes of wider society. In that regard, he’s the model for so many of our worldly aspirations.
However, we see that he is a man who also fears God. It’s truly remarkable how, though being a Gentile, Cornelius fears the God of Israel. Like Ruth the Moabite, he is very much aware that he stands outside of Israel. But in fearing the Lord, he joins in Ruth’s astounding declaration of faith: “Where you go I will go… Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). In other words, standing in front of Israel’s door, he waits and knocks, so that their God may be his God, their life his life, their hopes his hopes.
You could say he is caught up in between Rome and Israel, old and new life. Yet, it’s clear that he is still moving in a particular direction. As one biblical commentator put it, “He is in the old order, but his actions are now preparing him for the new order.” Being who he is, Cornelius seeks God, gives generously to the people, and is fervent in prayer (Acts 10:2). He is striving to embody a life which stands in antithesis to who he is and what he knows. In this, he is being drawn out of the old to move forward into the new. Having noticed his faith and having heard his prayers, God confirms this.
While we hold onto our worldly aspirations and seek after Christ, Cornelius shows us how we are also caught up in between these two spheres of old and new. Remember, Cornelius is not out of the old just yet! But in his faithful obedience, we’re shown how God is pulling him closer towards himself as God pulls him closer towards the life of Israel. And so, which direction are you moving in? Or, more accurately, who has the greater pull on your life, the world or Christ, and why?