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The Story of Cornelius

AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 10

      1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,

Caesarea was the capital of the Roman government in Judea, built 25-13 BC, 65 miles NW of Jerusalem. In the city of Caesarea lived a man named Cornelius. This is a Latin name, and suggests to some Bible scholars that Cornelius, a Roman, was “a proselyte of the gate”, or a Gentile who had renounced idolatry, and observed Jewish rites. However, there is no evidence for this.

Peter regarded Cornelius as a Gentile, not as a proselyte to Judaism. This is significant, because it means that Gentiles had on their own received the Word of God independently of Judaism. Sometimes it is easier to teach people the Christian faith because they have had no religious background.

The occupation of Cornelius was that of a Centurion, meaning that Cornelius was a Roman soldier over a group of 100 men. They were called the Italian band. The reference is to a cohort consisting of about 600 men under the command of a tribune. The cohort probably consisted of soldiers from Italy who might have gloried in that fact, and been given a measure of pre-eminence over those enlisted in other places.

     2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.

Observe Six Characteristics of Cornelius

Cornelius was a devout man.
Cornelius was a God fearing man.
Cornelius was a family man.
Cornelius was a generous man.
Cornelius was a prayerful man.
Cornelius was a spiritual minded man, for he saw a vision.

      3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.

It is a thrilling thought to realize that heaven knows our name. God knows our name. God is able to name the billions of stars in the heaven, and He is able to call us by name. At 3 pm one lovely afternoon, the Lord sent an angel to call Cornelius by name.

     4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.

The sight of the angel of the Lord caused Cornelius to be afraid. In alarm he cried out, “What is it, sir?” The body reacted in a natural way to the angelic messenger. Cornelius was ready for a fight, or flight. Neither was necessary for the angel of the Lord had a message for him. His alms, or gifts to the poor had become a memorial before God.

     5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:

     6 He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.

When Cornelius asked the visionary personage what he wanted, the angelic messenger gave specific instruction to Cornelius. He was to send men to Joppa to find Simon, Peter. Long ago, Jesus had called Simon to be His disciple when he was still a fisherman with his brother Andrew. The event was recorded by Matthew.

Matthew 4:18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.

Cornelius was informed that Simon Peter would be lodging with another Simon, a tanner, “whose house is by the sea side.” Once Cornelius had found Simon Peter, he would be instructed what to do next. All of this seems somewhat of a mystery, but it reveals several important truths.

First, God is omniscient. He knows Cornelius by name. He knows Simon Peter, and Simon the tanner by name. He knows where each person lives, and works.

Second God is omnipresent. Where Cornelius goes, God will go. Where Simon Peter is, God is there.

Third, God is sovereign. He foreknows what Simon Peter will tell Cornelius, because He has ordained what Simon Peter will tell Cornelius. Here is a great mystery. The sovereignty of God makes certain that what is to happen, will happen.

Nevertheless, in all of this there is the will of man being exercised. Cornelius will freely give instructions to men to find Simon Peter. Peter will freely tell Cornelius what he is to do. There is no violation of free will, if free will if defined as doing what the will desires to do. Yet, there is divine certainty as to what will happen.

     7 And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;

     8 And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.

Once the angel of the Lord had departed, Cornelius summoned two faithful servants, and a trusted solider. After sharing with them his spiritual encounter, Cornelius sent them to Joppa, or 36 miles south of Caesarea. It is always refreshing when the redeemed of the Lord say so. It is good to have a time of testimony. It is good to share what God is doing in one’s personal life.

     9  On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:

Having received instruction, the three men set out on their journey for Joppa. As the men made their way towards Joppa, about noontime, Simon Peter decided to go up to the top of the home he was visiting to pray.

On the housetop Peter would feel a gentle breeze, and be more refreshed. On the housetop, with the open sky above him, Peter would feel closer to God. Being out in nature has a profound spiritual effect on the soul. There is majesty to nature that draws the heart to heaven. On the housetop Peter might be alone. It is good to get alone with God. Jesus said, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6).

    10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,

While Peter’s intention was to pray, he realized that he was very hungry. The noontime meal was still being prepared when Peter went to a quiet place to pray. He would have delayed his prayer time in favor of food, had it been prepared, but it was not yet ready. In this state of hunger, torn between being pious and being hungry, God visited Peter in the form of a vison. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter had prophesied that the day of visions had come according to promise. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).’

     11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:

     12 Wherein were all manner of four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

      13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.

Since Peter was hungry, the Lord would use that natural desire to teach a profound spiritual lesson. Peter was shown all manner of animals, and instructed to kill them and eat. Look for opportunities to teach spiritual lessons from life. Jesus did. “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matt. 6:26).

     14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

Ah, Peter. He began to speak when he should have been listening and learning. Impulsive Peter dares to say no to God. He thought he had a good reason for rejecting the divine command. “Lord, I have never eaten anything that is commonly understood by all to be ceremonially unclean by the Law of Moses.”

In Peter’s mind he was too good, too holy, and too righteous to do what heaven commanded. What Peter really was is far different. Peter was too prideful as he called attention to what he had done in life. Peter was too self-centered. This moment was not about him. There are people who take every single situation in life, and turn it into a narrative about themselves. They are too self-centered. Peter was too quick to speak. James would one day write, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Peter was too dull of spiritual understanding. The heart of God’s people must be teachable for we have much to learn, even when we have spent years with Jesus. Here was a teachable moment, if Peter would receive it.

      15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

In matchless, marvelous grace, we find that God condescends to speak to individuals a second time thereby reflecting His great mercy and patience. How often has God had to speak to you, and me, before we were finally silent before Him, and listened? When Peter listened to the Lord, he received a divine perspective.

Always remember that there is a human point of view, and there is a divine point of view. All of life must be considered from the divine perspective. “What would Jesus do?” is a wonderful question. The Christian’s first response to any situation should be, “What does the Word of God have to say on this matter?”

As Peter listened to the Lord, He heard Jesus say, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” Here was a new, and profound thought. God had at some point begun to call unclean animals, clean. When did that happen? It happened at Calvary. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”, He meant that the work of redemption had been accomplished. That in turn meant that all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, which were a shadow of things to come, could cease.

The blood of goats and calves could not save, “but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:13). That which was once unclean is now made clean. At Calvary, not only was eternal redemption accomplished, but so was the relationship of God with His people, and so was the relationship of God’s people to one another. That which was once unclean was suddenly clean. Certain animals were once unclean. Now they are clean.

With these words the Lord was establishing a principle that would have profound application in human relationships. Peter was to learn that another group, formerly unclean, were now clean. That group was the Gentiles. To a devout Jew, Gentiles were “goyim,” or “foreigners.” They were viewed by the Hebrews as “unclean,” “dogs,” “heathens,” or “uncircumcised Philistines.”

Gentiles were outside the covenant of grace. No Gentile was allowed to come into the camp of Israel. In matters of religion, the Jews had erected a great barrier between themselves and the Gentiles. Peter was about to learn that at Calvary, that religious barrier was broken down. Those who were once considered wholly unclean could be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. However, it would take, not once, not twice, but three times before this truth penetrated the consciousness of Peter.

    16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

There is something about Peter, and the number three. Three times Peter denied the Lord of Glory. Three times Peter was asked if he loved Jesus. Three times the vessel containing unclean animals with the command to eat was given to Peter.

    17 Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simons house, and stood before the gate,

When Peter was aroused from his vision, he began to meditate on what he had seen and heard. God the Holy Spirit did not immediately illuminate his mind to receive spiritual understanding. That would come soon enough. A lesson is learned. As God is patient with us, so we need to be patient with others when trying to impart spiritual truths.

    18 And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.

    19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.

      20 Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.

     21 Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?

    22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.

    23 Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

    24 And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.

    25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.

    26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.

     27 And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.

    28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

In the company of Cornelius, and his family and friends, Peter began to share what God the Holy Spirit had taught him over the past 24 hours. Peter had been reflecting upon the vision he had been shown three times, and understood the spiritual truth the vision was intended to convey. God had shown Peter that no man, Jew or Gentile, should be called common, or unclean.

It is possible that one way the Holy Spirit used in bringing Peter to this spiritual truth was a story in the Old Testament about Elijah. Perhaps Peter remembered how God fed His prophet by a raven, which was, according to Leviticus 11:15, an unclean bird. If Elijah could receive food from a raven sent by the providence of God, surely Gentiles could be embraced if God was now calling them, clean. He was. What Peter was unclear about was why God sent these spiritual “ravens”, these Gentiles to him?

      29 Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?

     30 And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,

    31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.

      32 Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.

     33 Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.

      34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:

For centuries the Jews had firmly believed that God was a respecter of persons reflected in the honor God gave to the Jewish people over all the nations of the earth. The prophet Amos said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). Now, “Of a truth”, Peter perceived, by divine illumination, that God was not a respecter of persons, in a specific sense. Those who fear Him, work righteousness, and receive the Word of the Lord by Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, shall be received, whether they are Jew or Gentile.

      35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

      36 The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all 🙂

      37 That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;

      38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.

     39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:    

     40 Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;

      41 Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.

The doctrine of a divine election is clearly set forth. God has not chosen all to bear witness to Christ.

      42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.

      43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

      44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.

       45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.

       46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,

Since the word “tongues” here simply means languages; it is very possible that Cornelius and his household simply gave their testimony to salvation and praise to God in both the Latin and the Aramaic languages. They could have done this without any special gift of tongues. There was nothing mysterious, or even miraculous about members of an Italian band from Rome who could naturally speak Latin, visiting with Peter and the Jews who spoke Syriac, or Aramaic. It is likely that both groups spoke some Greek. That natural languages are in view is verified by Peter in Acts 11:15

      47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

By divine design the Gentiles were being made “fellow heirs, and of the same body [as believing Jews], and partakers of his [God’s] promise in Christ by the gospel.” (Eph.3:6).    This was the “mystery of Christ” Paul spoke of in Ephesians 3:4, that Jew and Gentile would be made one in the Lord.

      48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

What Happens When the Gospel is Preached

Jesus Christ is presented as the only One who can forgive sins.                                 10:43
Souls are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and filled with His presence.                   10:44
People are astonished.                                                                                                                          10:45
God is praised.                                                                                                                                             10:46
Baptism is administered in gospel obedience.                                                                          10:47
Christian fellowship is desired.                                                                                                          10:48

 

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