We are continuing our study of the Acts of the Apostles with today’s Scripture reading, Acts 10 and 11. What exciting times those were following the ascension of Christ (Acts 1), and the coming and baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). The powerful, unapologetic preaching of the Gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, 3:12-22)) spawned a movement that saw thousands trust Christ as Savior, be baptized and added to the church (2:41).
Yet, that same message of hope enflamed a conviction among the enemies of Christ, who determined to silence the preaching with threats and persecution (Acts 4-5). While persecution brought sorrow and physical suffering, it was the martyrdom of Stephen that was the catalyst for believers at Jerusalem to be “scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria” (8:1). Saul, the great persecutor of believers, was the instrument God used to thrust believers out of Jerusalem, preaching Christ wherever they went (8:3-4). Of course, Saul’s salvation and transformation (Acts 9) became a powerful testimony of the Gospel to believers and the unsaved. Those with whom Saul once consulted in his persecution of believers, then “took counsel to kill him” (9:23).
A Centurion Named Cornelius (10:1-8)
Acts 10 opened a new era in God’s redemptive plan, as a “man in Caesarea called Cornelius” (10:1) received a vision from God (10:3). Who was Cornelius? He was a Roman soldier, a centurion, an officer over 100 soldiers (10:1). Though a Gentile by birth, Cornelius had come to believe and “feared God with all his house” (10:2). He was “a devout man” who cared for the poor, and “prayed to God always” (10:2).
To Cornelius, a man of faith, God gave a vision of an angel who affirmed the Lord had not only seen his good works, but heard his prayers (10:4). The angel commanded Cornelius to send men to Joppa (modern Tel-Aviv), where they were to go to the house of “Simon, a tanner,” and find Peter (10:5-6). He was assured Peter would tell him “what thou oughtest to do” (10:6). Obeying the angelic messenger, Cornelius sent two servants and a “devout soldier” to Joppa (10:8).
God Prepares Peter’s Heart (10:9-23)
Unbeknownst to Cornelius, God was preparing Peter’s heart with a vision that forever changed not only his heart, but also the preaching of the Gospel. We find Peter praying on the housetop about the noon hour (10:9), and as he became hungry, he witnessed heaven open and a “great sheet” being lowered on which there “were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air” (10:12). Then, the Lord spoke and commanded him, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat” (10:13). But Peter answered, saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean” (10:14). The Lord spoke again, and then a third time, saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (10:15-16).
Providentially, as Peter wondered what the vision meant, the men sent by Cornelius arrived at the house where he was staying. Standing at the gate of the house, they “asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there” (10:18). Peter, not knowing men were at the gate, was commanded by the Spirit, “Behold, three men seek thee. 20Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them” (10:19-20).
Peter went down from the housetop as he was told, and found three men waiting as he had been told. Remember, though he knew he was commanded to go with the men, he did not know they were Gentiles until he saw one of the three was a soldier of Rome. They introduced themselves as men sent by Cornelius, a centurion whose testimony was great “among all the nation of the Jews” (10:21-22). No doubt taking a lesson from his vision of the unclean animals on the sheet, Peter invited the three men to lodge with him that night, promising “on the morrow” he would accompany them to Joppa (10:23).
Cornelius’ Preparation (10:23-33)
The next day, Peter and six other Jewish witnesses traveled to Caesarea, and came to Cornelius’ home where he waited with “kinsmen and near friends” he had called to hear Peter (10:23-24). Even “as Peter was coming in [into the house], Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him” (10:25). Peter, evidencing humility, said to him, “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (10:26). Peter, reflecting on his vision of the unclean beasts and the command, “kill and eat” (10:13, 28), understood the interpretation of the vision and said, “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (10:28).
Cornelius shared the vision he had received, and the command for him to send for Peter (10:30-33). In a wonderful testimony to the working of God’s Spirit, Cornelius humbly confessed, “we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (10:33).
The Breadth and Power of the Gospel Message (10:34-43)
Peter began to teach the Gentiles who had gathered in Cornelius’ house, and confessed, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (10:34-35). Declaring Jesus Christ “is Lord of all,” Peter realized the Gospel was not for Jews only, but was a message for all sinners, Jew and Gentile (10:36). He reminded his audience how Christ’s coming was first published among the Jews by the “baptism which John preached” (10:37), and the ministry of “Jesus of Nazareth” was manifested by good works (10:38).
Peter’s message reached its pinnacle when he declared he was a witness “of all things which [Christ] did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: 40Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly” (10:39-40). Confirming Christ’s bodily resurrection, Peter declared he “did eat and drink with [Jesus] after He rose from the dead” (10:41). Even the prophets were witnesses of those things, “that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (10:43; Isaiah 53:11; Jeremiah 31:34; Zechariah 13:1).
The Salvation and Baptism of Cornelius’ Household (10:44-48)
As Peter concluded his message, the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius and his household, for they had not only heard his words, but believed (10:44). The Jewish witnesses with Peter were astonished, as Gentiles began to manifest the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, speaking with tongues and glorifying God (10:46). Peter then, commanded Cornelius and his household “to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (10:48). The hunger for truth was so great, the young believers begged Peter to stay with them for several days (10:48b).
Closing thoughts – Take time to read Acts 11, and consider Peter’s glowing defense and declaration that salvation had come also to the Gentiles (11:1-18). Acts 11:22 gives us the record of the first missionary sent out by the church, and once again it is Barnabas who was chosen (Acts 4:36; 11:22-25).
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