Acts chapter 10 begins to tell a brief but critical story about the Apostle Peter and another guy. Having not met him myself I’ll let Scripture describe the other guy. “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” We hold that Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that Luke penned Acts. I don’t know how exactly Luke came to know of this other guy, but I have no doubt that the Acts 10:1-2 description is a fair description.
Now, I have placed the title, “No Jumping” on this article because I want you to resist the temptation to jump to conclusions about the intent of the article. I trust you will find that such jumping is exactly the point, and therefore, the point to avoid.
As the narrative continues, we learn that Peter, compelled by God, goes to the house of Cornelius where (V24) “Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.” Peter bears witness before them to the truth of God and the gospel, “opening his mouth” (V34) with the consequence that the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. Having received the Holy Spirit they were subsequently baptized. Luke does not record the names of those members of Cornelius’ household or his “close friends”, but I think it is safe to suppose that they also had names.
Chapter 11 goes on to explain God’s purpose behind including this event in the story of His church’s infancy (that (10:36) Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and specifically (11:18) that God has granted repentance that leads to life to the Gentiles also.) This all comes out as Peter is compelled to explain to the brothers in Judea why exactly he had “gone to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” It may not be your first instinct to notice this as you read through the text, but consider this. The brothers in Judea had never heard of Cornelius. They didn’t know he was a centurion of the Italian Cohort. They didn’t know he was a devout man who feared God. They had never heard that he gave alms and prayed continually. They can be excused for not knowing Cornelius. Peter didn’t know Cornelius until Cornelius’ servants showed up at his door. They were being taught that this excuse was no excuse for not preaching the gospel to anyone and everyone. Moreover, they were being taught that “knowing a type” was the same as not really knowing a man at all. They were being taught that you have to go to a person because they are a person, preach the gospel, and expect repentance. You have to set aside what you know, “a type”, reckon that this is not really knowing much of anything, find out the man’s name and something about him and preach the gospel to him expecting repentance. They were being taught that you can’t jump to conclusions about someone you don’t know for the simple reason that you don’t know them. Missions and evangelism is not preaching the gospel to a type of person. It is finding persons and preaching so as to win that person to Jesus Christ. We are to reach every person for Christ.
Here is who the Judea brothers and Peter did know. They knew “uncircumcised men.” They knew Roman centurions. They knew the type! They knew the type but they didn’t know Cornelius, and here’s the point. They would never know Cornelius so long as they held onto “knowing the type.”
Now, the only way you and I could be farther removed from Cornelius and his home in Caesarea is if we boarded the next SpaceX flight to its low-earth orbit destination. And yet, as the Biblical narrative is told, we get to know many things about Cornelius before even Peter gets to know. Cornelius exists and Peter doesn’t know of his existence even as he knows of the existence of a type. Cornelius is over here fearing God with all his household, giving alms and praying continually to God, and if you asked Peter, “Tell me what you think about a centurion of the Italian Cohort living in Caesarea.”, Peter would probably say, “Well sit down, I can tell you everything you need to know about this guy.” Admitting our inclinations as we must, we might suspect that Peter wouldn’t have anything good to say about this man he never met. If you challenged him and said, “But you’ve never met him.”, he might respond by saying, “I don’t have to meet him to know all I need to know about him.” This is called jumping to conclusions and it is bad. We shouldn’t do this.
It would not be unusual to find a “No Jumping” sign at a frequently visited cliff’s edge near a lake. Apart from serving to provide a very real temptation to jump from that point, the sign doesn’t really describe what the jumper does when he races off the cliff’s edge and splashes down below in the lake, bobbing up a few seconds later whooping in joy and exhilaration. When you leave the cliff you aren’t jumping. You are falling straight away, and this is what happens when you jump to conclusions about people you don’t really know. You fall, and fall well short of what Christ Jesus would have you do. We must evangelize “those guys” and “that type of person” recognizing that there are but only 2 types of persons in the world. There are the lost and found, and until all are found we have no business losing people in the fictitious fogs of things we already think we know. Jumping off into the fog is especially bad.