One of the most notable features of “missional” work is the awkward, surprising works of providence — how God brings events and people into a moment where the work of God occurs. (Again, see: The Acts of the Apostles (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries)
.) This is so powerful in Acts 10, and so I post a chunk of text:
10:1 Now there was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort. 10:2 He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was all his household; he did many acts of charity for the people and prayed to God regularly. 10:3 About three o’clock one afternoon he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius.” 10:4 Staring at him and becoming greatly afraid, Cornelius replied, “What is it, Lord?” The angel said to him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have gone up as a memorial before God. 10:5 Now send men to Joppa and summon a man named Simon, who is called Peter. 10:6 This man is staying as a guest with a man named Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 10:7 When the angel who had spoken to him departed, Cornelius called two of his personal servants and a devout soldier from among those who served him, 10:8 and when he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
10:9 About noon the next day, while they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10:10 He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing the meal, a trance came over him. 10:11 He saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. 10:12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. 10:13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!”10:14 But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled and ritually unclean!” 10:15 The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!” 10:16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven.
10:17 Now while Peter was puzzling over what the vision he had seen could signify, the men sent by Cornelius had learned where Simon’s house was and approached the gate. 10:18 They called out to ask if Simon, known as Peter, was staying there as a guest. 10:19 While Peter was still thinking seriously about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look! Three men are looking for you. 10:20 But get up, go down, and accompany them without hesitation, because I have sent them.” 10:21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “Here I am, the person you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 10:22 They said, “Cornelius the centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man, well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to summon you to his house and to hear a message from you.” 10:23 So Peter invited them in and entertained them as guests.
God speaks to Cornelius; God speaks to Peter; God brings Cornelius and Peter together. Once together, Peter delivers one of the most significant sermons in Christian history, rivalling Peter’s Pentecost sermon. We will examine that speech next week, but a few remarks about providence:
1. God hears the heart of all — Cornelius evidently is a God-fearer (uncircumcised Gentile who was following Torah in part). He was a devout man; full of good deeds; God heard his prayers. I think it is so important for the missionally minded to know that God is already at work before the missional person arrives; God is at work with wall; there is a wideness in God’s mercy that is acknowledged in this text.
2. God prepares the missional agent — Peter, not one to eat unkosher food, gets a vision that all foods are clean. God does this to prepare Peter for Cornelius. This text can be taken in a number of directions, but the clearest one is straight to mission: God was preparing Peter to preach the gospel to Cornelius.
3. God does untraditional things in the missional work of God. It is not common for Jews to be asked to eat such foods, but God expects gospel agents to adapt to the culture.
4. God’s missional agents surrender to the providential, untraditional work of God. Hospitality is at the core of this surprising, awkward, untraditional providence of God as God does mission.