The Good News about Jesus was spreading. Many people chose not to listen. Many risked their very lives and believed. The time had come, though, for more people than just the Jews to hear the Good News.
Many times in Jewish history, God had spoken through his prophets. He had said how there would come from the Jewish people a light. This was Jesus. The Light would save the world. Even Jesus had said his teaching was at first for the Jews. Later it would be for people from allover the world. This was one of the reasons why the religious leaders had hated Him so much. They liked being God’s only chosen people. Now the time had come for all that to change. God made this clear through two men, Peter and a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was not a Jew. He was a Roman centurion, or army officer. He was in charge of over one hundred Roman soldiers. Even so, he and his whole family believed in the one God. Cornelius was a man of prayer. He often gave his money to the poor.
One afternoon Cornelius was praying. He had a vision. He saw an angel who called out, “Cornelius!”
“What is it, Lord?” he stared at the angel. He felt afraid.
“God has heard your prayers. He is pleased with all your gifts to the poor. He is ready to answer you. Now send some of your men to Joppa. Tell them to find a man named Peter. He is living by the sea in the house of Simon the tanner.” Cornelius did as the angel said. He sent three of his men.
As these men were heading for Joppa, a strange thing happened to Peter. He was sitting on the roof of the house by the sea. He had gone up there to pray while waiting for his dinner. Then Peter had a vision, too!
Peter saw the sky open up. A great sheet was lowered down. Inside were all kinds of animals and birds. A Voice told him, “Get up, Peter. It’s all right if you eat these animals!”
Peter said, “Oh no, Lord, we’re not allowed to eat these things. I’ve never eaten food which is unclean by our Law.”
Then for a second and third time, the Voice told him, “Don’t call anything unclean that God has made clean.” Then the sheet was lifted back into the sky.
When Peter woke up from his strange vision, he was very confused. “What does it mean?” he wondered. Then God’s Holy Spirit told Peter, “Get up now and go downstairs. Three men are looking for you. Don’t worry, I have sent them.”
Peter went downstairs. He heard from the three men how an angel had told Cornelius to send for Peter. So the next day he set out. Peter traveled with some other believers from Joppa. Peter arrived at the house. Cornelius fell at his feet and bowed down before Peter. All his friends and family were there. They heard Peter say, “Please get up. I’m just a man like you.”Peter took a good look around the room. It was full of men, women and children. Most of them were not Jews .He said, “You know yourselves that it’s against Jewish Law for me to visit you. Yet God has shown me that He loves everybody, no matter if they’re a Jew or not. That’s why I’m here. Now why did you send for me?”
Cornelius said, “I’m so glad you’ve come to my house. I had a vision that we should send for you. God has something to tell us through you. Did He give you a message?” He told Peter what the angel had said to him during the vision. Peter nodded.
“Yes, He did. Listen, God treats everyone the same. There is no difference. He welcomes everyone
who believes in him. I see that now.”Suddenly, while Peter explained this, the Holy Spirit swept though the room. He came upon everyone who was listening. They all began speaking in tongues and praising God!
The Jewish believers Peter had brought with him were surprised. They had never seen the Holy Spirit come upon non-Jews.
News of what had happened quickly reached the other apostles. Non-Jews, or Gentiles, had received the word of God! Some of the apostles were not very happy about it. They thought Peter had broken Jewish Law for mixing with non-Jews. The time had come for the whole world to become God’s family. As soon as Peter came back to Jerusalem, they questioned him.
“You broke the Law,” the apostles said. “You stayed at the home of Gentiles. You even ate with them!” Peter explained exactly what had happened. He told them about his vision and the angel who had visited Cornelius.
When the other apostles heard this, they stopped grumbling and praised God. “This means that God has given everyone the chance to turn to Him and start new lives in Jesus.”
It was at this time that the believers were first called “Christians.” It meant “belonging to Christ.”