Did you ever have things not go as you planned them? You made great summer plans with a best friend only to find out that friend is moving away…you built up a nest egg only to have to empty it because you lost your job…you were headed to Damascus to imprison Christians only to find yourself knocked to the ground and blind. Saul (AKA St. Paul) wasn’t planning to convert to Christianity, but God has a way of detouring our lives and interrupting our plans to invite us to embrace His plan for our lives instead.
Saul puts the puzzle pieces together, all the scriptures he has studied throughout his life and the knock to the ground, lead him to understand that Jesus is the Messiah. Saul’s conversion is so rapid that within a few days, he is preaching the Gospel in the synagogues of Damascus. Ironically, Saul is now the one the Jews want to kill so he escapes by being lowered in a basket over the city walls and heads out to the desert for three years.
Meanwhile, Peter is mirroring the life of Jesus by healing people and even bringing a woman named Tabitha back to life. All these signs and wonders keep bringing believers into the faith. Just like any good news, this news spread beyond the confines of the Jewish people to the Gentiles (those who were not Jewish) and to one man in particular, Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion in a special unit called the Italian Cohort, which meant he commanded 100 soldiers and was respected for his courage and valor. Along with that title, he was also called a God-fearer, someone who accepted God but rejected circumcision, which was the Jewish entry into the Old Covenant. Cornelius prays daily and helps support the needy in his community. During his prayer, an angel told him to send for Peter.
While Cornelius’ people are headed to Joppa to fetch Peter, it’s time for daily prayer and Peter goes up on the rooftop, but perhaps snoozes a little and finds himself in a vision of a huge sheet with all kinds of animals that God tells him to go ahead and eat. Kosher laws are coming to an end was the message and Peter understands that not just the dietary laws, but the exclusion of the Gentiles from the faith was coming to an end. The Body of Christ does not discriminate. When Cornelius’ ambassadors arrive, Peter goes with them and finds there a whole household of believers who receive the Holy Spirit and are then baptized into the faith.
Saul’s earlier persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem had pushed the Apostles out to evangelize in new territories. In Antioch, there are so many folks being baptized that Barnabas, whose name means son of encouragement, is sent to oversee this budding new church. He quickly realizes he needs help and heads out to look for Saul, whom he now encourages to active missionary work. Antioch will become the base camp of Saul (St. Paul) for all his upcoming missionary journeys and it is in Antioch that we first hear the new believers being called Christians.
You can probably guess that if the numbers of Christians are increasing, then someone is going to want heads to roll. The current King of the Jews, Herod Agrippa (grandson of Herod the Great who ruled when Jesus was born – the one who had all the little babies killed) throws Peter back in jail…in chains. Yes, that’s where we get the name of our Cathedral – St. Peter in Chains. An angel springs Peter out of jail and he goes to the house of Mary (not Jesus’ mother) and we first hear about John Mark, AKA St. Mark the gospel writer. Next time we embark on Saul’s (St. Paul’s) first missionary journey and we learn about why he had two names….so confusing sometimes. So for now, think about a time when things didn’t go as you planned and ask God what He was trying to show you or get you to do instead.