The worldwide Church
Into all the world
You may have seen a picture of Jesus surrounded by children from different countries. This is a way of showing that the Christian Church is open for people of all nations to join, for the simple reason that Jesus came to save all people. That is why, before he ascended to Heaven, he commanded his Apostles to go and teach all nations and baptise them (Matthew 28:19).
Jews and Gentiles
However, it took the Apostles a long time to realise this. They were Jews and kept the Jewish Law, and that meant they didn’t mix with Gentiles which was the name given to those who were not Jews and did not keep the Law. For example, the Jews had special rules about the food they ate. Pork they were not allowed to eat at all, and other meat only if all the blood had been drained from it before it was cooked. All these foods which were forbidden by the Jewish Law they called unclean or common (profane), but of course Gentiles did not mind what theyate. The result was that Jews never had any meals with Gentiles. The Apostles seem to have forgotten that Jesus had said that one could eat any kind of food (cf Mark 7:15), and St Peter for one was very worried about his missionary work. He wanted to bring people of every nation into the Church, Gentiles and all, but how could he if he did not mix with them?
Peter and Cornelius
Peter at Joppa
It happened one day that Peter came to the coast town of Joppa, or Jaffa as it is called today. It was a very busy port and Peter stayed at a house overlooking the harbour. One morning he went up onto the flat roof of the house to say his prayers as all Jews did in the middle of the day. From that rooftop Peter would have had a good view of the ships in the harbour. Some would have been tied up at the quay, unloading their cargoes, others coming into port after a long voyage. But perhaps the ones he noticed most were the ones setting out to sea. He would have seen the sails hoisted and the ships slowly beginning their voyages to far off lands where the people had never heard of Jesus. And perhaps he thought that he ought to be on one of those ships because Jesus had commanded the Apostles to go and teach all nations. But how could a Jew mix with people of all nations, when he was not allowed to eat the same kind of food as they ate?
While he was on the flat roof, Peter became hungry and while a meal was being prepared for him, he had a strange vision. He saw what looked like a great sheet (or perhaps a sail) being let down by its four corners, and in it were all kinds of animals and birds, many of which no Jew was allowed to eat. Then Peter heard a voice say” Get up, Peter; kill and eat”. Peter answered, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean”. The voice spoke again and said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (NRSV, Acts 10:9-15). This happened three times and then the sheet was taken up again into the sky.
The men sent by Cornelius
While Peter was wondering what this meant, three men arrived at the gate of the house and asked to see him. When Peter went down he found that one of the men was a Roman soldier. Peter asked why they had come, and they told him. They had been sent by a centurion or sergeant-major of the Roman Army who was stationed at a place called Caesarea 30 miles along the coast. His name was Cornelius and he was a good man who attended the synagogue services although he was not a Jew himself. The afternoon before he had had a strange experience. An angel had appeared to him, telling him to send men to Joppa and fetch Simon, who is called Peter. The angel said that Peter was staying with Simon, a tanner, in his seaside house (Acts 10:3-6).
When he heard this, Peter asked the men to stay the night and the following day they set out for Caesarea. He now understood the vision: the sheet stood for the Church which God meant to contain people of all nations, Gentiles as well as Jews.
Cornelius and his friends are baptised
When they reached Caesarea, Cornelius met them and, bringing them to his house where many of his friends and relations were waiting, asked Peter to talk to them. Peter began by telling them about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but before he had finished the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come to the Apostles themselves at Pentecost. When Peter saw this, he had them baptised immediately. Thus for the first time people who were not Jews became members of the Church.
The worldwide church
Since then, men, women and children in all parts of the world have been baptised and have become members of the Church like Cornelius and his friends.
We must always remember to pray that the Church in this country and throughout the world may grow, and that more and more people may come to know and love Jesus. We must also not forget to help the Church with money. In some countries, Christians do not have enough money to pay for churches and schools and hospitals themselves and they need our support.
For all these people who belong to the Church, wherever they may be, are our Christian brothers and sisters, and we must help them and pray for them and ask them to pray for us.
1. As Jesus died that all might have the opportunity of being saved, so his Church is open for people of all nations to join.
2. The first members of the Church were all Jews but, since Cornelius and his friends were baptised, people from all races have been baptised and are members.
3. These members are our Christian brothers and sisters, and we should help them by our prayers and, when needed, our money. And we should ask them to pray for us.