Everybody has dreams, goals, and priorities. But the message of Easter is that the greatest goal we can have is to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and be witnesses to the gospel, first right in our homes and then to others—even to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Let’s look at three ordinary families in the New Testament who took the message of the resurrection into their homes. Their lives were changed as they were filled with the Spirit.
Acts 10: A Soldier’s Dream Comes True. Cornelius, a commander in the Roman army, was stationed in the port city of Caesarea. He and his family were devout and God-fearing. They embraced the Jewish law despite the fact that they were Gentiles. They prayed together regularly and they gave money to the poor. Cornelius treated the soldiers under his command with respect, and many looked up to him. But while Cornelius appeared to have a model family, God wanted to give them more.
Even though they were separated by thirty miles of coastline and were complete strangers, both Cornelius in Caesarea and Peter in Joppa felt God calling them together. So Peter began the two-day journey, and Cornelius spent the time gathering as many family members and friends as he could. When Peter arrived he began to speak about Jesus, and before he could even invite everyone to accept his message, the Holy Spirit came upon the people, and they were converted. What a surprise of the Spirit! What a gift from God!
Acts 12: Another Mary. Mary is the most popular name in the New Testament. In addition to the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is the sister of Martha, Mary Magdalene, the mother of James and Joseph, and the wife of Clopas. And there is another Mary, the mother of John Mark, the one who tradition tells us stands behind the Gospel of Mark. This Mary was also the aunt of the apostle Barnabas.
Probably a widow and probably wealthy, Mary was an influential member of the early church. She owned a home in Jerusalem, and she frequently opened her home for Eucharist celebrations and communal meals. In fact, her home may have been the primary meeting center for the Jerusalem church.
The story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison gives us a sense of how courageous Mary was. Christians were being persecuted. James had been martyred, and Peter was in prison. But on the night before his trial, Peter was set free by an angel. Once free, Peter went to Mary’s house, where many of the believers were gathered, praying for him. Despite the obvious hazards, Mary wanted to keep the church together. She risked her status in society, her reputation, her wealth, and even her life, all for the sake of the Lord and his people.
Mary’s son, John Mark, was a great evangelist. Surely she played a significant role in his personal and spiritual development. No doubt she encouraged him to join Paul on his first missionary journey despite his young age. No doubt she supported him when he unexpectedly deserted Paul and Barnabas halfway through the journey (Acts 13:13).
Acts 18: Priscilla and Aquila. When Paul was working in Corinth, he met a couple named Priscilla and Aquila, who were tentmakers like himself. The threesome formed a business partnership. While it is unclear whether Priscilla and Aquila were already Christians prior to meeting Paul, it is likely that Paul’s witness impressed them and united them. A few years later, Priscilla and Aquila joined Paul on a missionary journey. After spending some time together in Ephesus, Paul moved on, but Priscilla and Aquila stayed back to help lead the fledgling church.
While in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila heard a well-educated and eloquent man named Apollos preach about Jesus. Acts tells us that while Apollos knew much about Jesus and his teaching, his knowledge was limited. For instance, he knew only about John’s baptism and not about Jesus’ promise to baptize his followers with the Holy Spirit. Priscilla and Aquila invited Apollos to come and meet them.
Though they were probably not as educated as Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila were able to share more about the “way of the Lord,” perhaps on the power of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which were beyond Apollos’ limited understanding. These two tradespeople supplied the missing ingredient to Apollos’ ministry, and together they blessed and molded the church in Ephesus.
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Desires. When couples try to bring Jesus into their homes, good things happen. None of us should think that this is beyond our capacity. The people we just looked at were everyday folks who worked hard to bring God into their homes.
Cornelius didn’t know that through his resurrection, Jesus could empower his family to live holy lives. He taught his children how to pray, and he led his family in the Jewish prayers of the synagogue. He taught them the value of giving to the needy and of having respect for other people. He tried his best to build a family that was pleasing to God, and God blessed his efforts. God blessed them for what they did know and used Peter to bring them to a much fuller faith.
Likewise for us, we must believe that God blesses our efforts. He wants to bless our prayers and our gifts to the poor just as he did for Cornelius. He wants to perform miracles of the Spirit in our homes. Jesus promised us, “Believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours” (Mark 11:24).
Like Mark’s mother Mary, God asks families to be hospitable, generous, and courageous—especially in today’s world. Mary was determined to make her home a dwelling place for God’s people. She was also determined to raise her son to know, love, and serve Jesus above all else. We can learn a lot from Mary’s twofold approach to life: her deep involvement in the church and her desire to form her son in Christ. It’s possible to do; it’s beneficial for our children; it’s a necessity in today’s world. Mary is a special model for single moms who love the Lord and the church. She, too, was faced with the challenge of raising Christian children in an unchristian world.
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul called Priscilla and Aquila “co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks” for him (Romans 16:3-4). Suppose they did not stay behind in Ephesus. Where would the church be? Suppose they did not invite Apollos to their home and teach him about the resurrection. Where would Apollos be? With so much marital division today, Priscilla and Aquila show us what it’s like to love and serve Jesus as a couple. They sacrificed for the sake of the church. They were prepared to move with the Spirit’s leading—all for the sake of evangelizing people and building up the church. Jesus is still looking for married couples who will put him first and place his interests above their own.