Description / Transcription
We trust, O Lord, that those words have not passed by our lips in an unthinking or unfeeling way. May they be the cry of our heart, that though our sins are many, and they are many, sins of omission, sins of commission, that Your mercy would be more. And so we come now, standing in need of more mercy. I need your mercy to preach Your Word faithfully, boldly. We need Your mercy to hear it, to receive it, to do it, to be changed by it. So show Yourself now, O Lord, in these next moments to be a God of great mercy. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our text this morning, continuing with our series through the book of Acts, we come to Acts chapter 10. We’ll be reading all 48 verses. It’s good to be reminded from time to time when we have longer passages to read, like we’ve had often in the evening going through the book of Daniel, and have this morning a whole chapter in Daniel 10. Do you remember what Paul tells Timothy? “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” All three of those activities were essential to the pastoral task. This is just a reminder not to think of the reading of public Scripture as something we sort of endure or get over so we can get to the preaching of the sermon, but together the reading and the preaching of Holy Scripture is God speaking to us, and so let’s listen as we hear God speak to us from Acts chapter 10.
“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. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, ‘Cornelius.’ And he stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.’ When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
“The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”
“Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.’ And Peter went down to the men and said, ‘I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ So he invited them in to be his guests.”
“The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.'”
“And Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
“So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. As for the word that He sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.”
This long passage marks a turning point in the book of Acts, for now we have the Gospel going to the Gentiles, and from this point we will see the action turn decidedly toward the Gentiles. Yes, Peter and Paul after him will often go first to the Jews and there will be much interaction with the Jews, but it is now quite clearly a Gospel that is for all peoples. We have this story given in great detail, in great length, and did you notice it’s given quite repetitively. We might find that tedious as someone has to take seven or eight minutes to read it to you, but it’s repeated for a reason. It’s indicating how important this section is.
Notice in verses 1 through 29, first Luke narrates the story, and then in verse 30 through 33, Cornelius retells the story once again, and next week we’ll come to chapter 11 and Peter will report the whole story to the church. So three times we have the same basic story of an angel to Cornelius and Peter up on the roof and eat the animals and meet Cornelius there at the, when the men find him at Simon the tanner’s house, and then go and then speak the Gospel to him. Three times, in great detail, at great length.
We can look at this event in two different ways. One is to look at the big picture. What is the redemptive, historical significance of the Gospel now going quite clearly to the Gentiles, and that theme is certainly present in chapter 10, but we are going to save that theme by and large for next week when we come to chapter 11. What is going on here in the big picture of God’s plan of salvation?
The other way to look at this passage is to look at it individually, and in particular to focus on Cornelius. And that’s what I want to do this morning.
So there’s all sorts of big picture questions, things going on here, which Lord willing we’ll come back to next week.
But this morning, I want us to look in particular at this man Cornelius. What he was, what he was not, and what he became.
Three points. First, what he was. Who was this man Cornelius? Well, you see he is given this name, quite a common name given to many Roman men, after Cornelius Sulla granted freedom to thousands of slaves in 82 B.C. it became a popular name among the Romans.
We read in verse 1 that he is a centurion, as the name suggests. It means he was a captain of applied 100 men in the Roman army. And it says further that he was a centurion of what was known as the Italian cohort. This is not a sort of learning community within your class to find some discipleship cohort, but this was an army cohort; six units in a cohort, probably an auxiliary force used in protection of the Roman prefect, that is, the Roman regional governor who lived in Caesarea, the provincial capital and a major administrative center, so this is likely a secret service detail, the Italian cohort. I mean, it does, I mean, a centurion sounds pretty cool, but “I’m in the Italian cohort,” I mean, that is, that’s better than the Dutch mafia, that sounds really good.
So he’s one of these guys, an important person in the Roman army.
But accent, of course, is not on what he does, but rather on his character. Look at verse 2. There are four positive traits mentioned. He is called a devout man; that means he’s sincere, he’s religious, he’s a decent man, he’s virtuous. Probably what we would call a good citizen, a good man in the community, a good family man. He’s devout.
Second, it says he feared God with all his household. That can be a general term; it can also be a semi-technical term in the New Testament. A God-fearer as a technical term was a phrase for a Gentile who was exposed to the God of Israel and not fully a convert to the God of Israel but was sympathetic to the Jewish God, took interest in the Jewish people and some empathy toward their heritage and tradition. Now, whether it’s a technical term here or it simply means that he was a man who feared God however he knew Him, it certainly suggests that Cornelius had responded positively to his exposure to Judaism. And we read that later, that he is spoken of in great remarks by all of the Jewish nation. He would have had to come in close contact with many Jews, being stationed here in Caesarea. And this is one of the Roman officials that when they talked among them, they said, “Well, but, do you know Cornelius? Oh, he’s a good man. He’s a devout man. He’s a God-fearer.”
He wasn’t circumcised, he wasn’t a convert, as we’ll see. He wasn’t following the law of Moses in any detail, but he had a respect for God. He had an appreciation for the religion of the Hebrews.
Third, he gave alms generously to the people, so he was compassionate, he was generous with his money.
And then we read, fourth, he prayed continually to God, so he is a serious, consistent, religious man.
We read later in verse 22, you see another one of these summary statements, “an upright and God-fearing man who was well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation.” Or earlier in verse 4, “your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” So this is a man with a sparkling reputation among the Jews. He’s a good man. He’s a decent man. He’s a devout man.
Now, it’s important to see what this man was like even before he has heard the Gospel. Now, Peter is going to share very plainly the Gospel. He does not yet have faith in Christ, as we’ll see in just a moment, he is not yet a saved man. But he is a decent, devout, religious, God-fearing, good man.
Now how do we understand that theologically?
Well, if you notice in the bulletin, the title for the sermon, “Good News for ‘Good’ People” I put in quotation marks, because Cornelius is good in a certain sense and theologically he is not good in another sense.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 16, speaks about the works done by non-Christians. It says “works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them, they are to be things which God commands and of good use both to themselves and others,” yet the Confession goes on to say “they cannot please God because they are not done from a right heart and a right manner toward the right end.”
And I think that’s right. The Confession distills there a lot of good theology. That on the one hand we know from Scripture that unless you are doing what you’re doing in faith, it cannot be pleasing to God. Unless your aim is for the glory of God, it is not ultimately a good work that God finds acceptable and pleasing in His sight. That’s one sort of theological category.
But of course, the Bible is a big book, and it uses words in a lot of different ways, and there’s another way to think about good works, or acceptable before God, or a good man, and that is one who in a proximate sense is devout, decent, moral. It is important that we have this kind of theological nuance, otherwise you and I may make the mistake of thinking that every non-Christian or even most non-Christians, are going to be some sort of seething, licentious, despicable monster that’ll just be so obvious, they wouldn’t possibly be nice to us as neighbors. Think you could just tell where the Christian neighbors are and the non-Christian neighbors, because they graffiti your lawn every night and they throw rotten eggs over your window, and when they come out they have little pointy horns. Of course not.
In fact, we’ve all probably encountered that theological conundrum, “Why is this non-Christian person I know seem so much nicer than this Christian person that I know?”
C.S. Lewis has an interesting essay about that. Part of his argument is you have to understand what some people by virtue of background and upbringing and parents and school and all the rest have quite a head start on being basically nice, decent, socialized, civilized human beings. Maybe the Christian that seems to be here to you started way back here, but save that for another day.
The point is this: There is more than one biblical way to look at a person. You would be very right, biblically and theologically, to look at the human race in binary categories: You are either dead in sin or alive in Christ. You are either an enemy of God, or a friend of God, and those are absolutely true biblical and theological categories.
But we would also be right to see that in a different sort of theological grid that there are sometimes more shades of color than simply black and white. There are decent, honorable, non-Christians. Call it common grace, pre-evangelism, God’s restraining grace, the effects of natural law, natural theology… But I’m sure all of us can think, in your classroom, in your workplace, in your family, in your country of origin, you can think, “There’s seem really nasty people,” and then you can think there are people like Cornelius. They would give you the proverbial shirt off their back and they’re a model for so many good things. Yes, they need Jesus, but by God’s grace they’re honest, they’re honorable.
And so we need to understand that there are lots of people. And we should expect lots of people like Cornelius, especially in a place like Charlotte, North Carolina, with centuries of Christian heritage and tradition and a general sort of Christian culture, if not presently at least in a not too distant memory. And then you have just the Southern way of being very nice to people.
We are going to encounter all sorts of Corneliuses, and we should not treat them poorly. We should not change our theology around them, either to think that, “Well, they can’t possibly be decent human beings if they don’t know Christ,” or “Wow, I met someone who seems like a nice person, therefore I have to throw out the window my doctrine of total depravity and sin and the need for a savior and heaven and hell because they seem like they’re good people.”
And we’ll get to that in just a moment.
So I want you to note what sort of man Cornelius was.
Second, just as importantly, you need to notice what sort of man he was not. So everything I just said, he’s a decent, religious, the sort of man you would want to bring your car to for servicing, you would want working at the bank, you would want as a neighbor next door…. And yet, he’s not saved. He’s not a Christian. He does not know Christ.
Let me give you some theological isms. There’s four of them, when it comes to understanding salvation in Christ. One is universalism. This is the belief that all people in the end are saved. The population of Hell is zero; everyone ends up somehow in heaven. Universalism. The Bible obviously does not teach universalism, not getting into that, but it doesn’t.
Second, pluralism. I’m not talking about the sort of good sort of pluralism where we all learn to live together and we’re all very different, but theological pluralism, it’s not quite universalism, there still may be a Hell because there still needs to be someplace for Hitler or Stalin or whomever, but there are many, many ways go God. There’s many ways and you’re sincere and if you’re a decent person, than there are many different religious paths that will put you in heaven. That also is not what the Bible teaches.
There’s a third category, which is quite popular among some evangelicals, and I bet some of you may without knowing it hold to this position, and if not you, then some of your kids and grandkids. It’s called inclusivism. Inclusivism says, “Well, yes, we are only saved through Christ, we know that from the Bible. We’re saved, we must be saved by the finished work of Christ on the cross. It’s only by His death and resurrection that we can be in heaven.” But inclusivism says, “Ah, well, but perhaps we don’t need to put conscious faith in Christ in order to be saved by that Christ.” And sadly, as much as we love C.S. Lewis books, he advocates in both The Chronicles of Narnia and in Mere Christianity for a version of inclusivism, that the followers of Tash were actually saved by Aslan even though they didn’t know it. It’s a version of inclusivism. You’re saved by Christ, but you may not have heard of Christ, you may not have put conscious faith in Christ.
And then what the Bible teaches is what is called exclusivism. Now that sounds very negative, but it’s just to differentiate it from the other sorts of isms. And that’s the understanding that we are saved not only through the work of Christ, but we are saved only by putting conscious faith in Christ, speaking here of sentient, adults who have the capability of mental cognition to put faith in an object, in Christ.
And we’ll get to that throughout the book of Acts and, Lord willing, when we come back to John’s Gospel and get to John 14:6 in particular, so I’m not defending it, I’m just giving you these categories because many people want to look at Cornelius and say, “Here we have an example of a man who is either an example of inclusivism or pluralism, because he was a good man, he was a decent man, he was a God-fearing man, and wasn’t he already acceptable before God?”
Well, here are four reasons we know Cornelius was not already saved. You can read more about this if you ever pick up John Piper’s book Let the Nations Be Glad. He has quite a bit of helpful information about this passage in particular.
Just look at chapter 10, verse 43: “To Him, all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
So here’s the first indication Cornelius is not saved, because Peter is preaching to him the Gospel, saying, “You must believe in Him to receive forgiveness of sins. You haven’t yet,” that’s the message Peter shares.
We haven’t gotten to chapter 11, but turn the page. Here’s a second passage, a second reason, chapter 11, verse 14, relaying the story, it says: “He will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.”
Well, that seems pretty clear. He was not saved because Peter is coming to give him a message whereby he can be, and will be, saved.
A third verse, go down to verse 18, chapter 11: “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'”
So God led Cornelius and those with him to be saved. He wasn’t already, but now he is.
And then a fourth verse. If you go back to Acts chapter 2, verse 5. You may not have noticed this before, but here we have the men at Pentecost, and what do we read in verse 5: “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews,” and here’s the language, “devout men from every nation under heaven.”
Now if you know the rest of Acts chapter 2, you know that Peter’s sermon ends by saying you must repent, you must believe, you must be baptized. Here is this Christ, prefigured and prophesied in your Scriptures, and now you must put faith in Him. So here again are devout men, but they’re not saved men.
So Cornelius was not a Christian. He was not saved.
So what do we do, go back to chapter 10, with verse 35? Because this is the puzzling verse. “But in every nation,” Peter says, “anyone who fears Him and does what is right, is acceptable to Him.”
So that’s the stumper, because if you just look at it quickly, you think is Peter saying you, you fear, you have a general fear of God and you’re a good person, you’re acceptable.
Well, what does it mean to be acceptable? Now we just saw it cannot mean that Cornelius and people like him are already saved for having a general reverence to God and being decent people. We’ve already seen from multiple passages, Cornelius was not saved, he was getting the Gospel in order that he could be saved. So “acceptable” there must not mean “and you are saved.”
So what does “acceptable” mean? Well, there’s a few different options, as you might imagine.
One option says “acceptable” could mean that they are welcome now to come to Christ. So, God-fearers, people who do what is right, you are accepted, that is you’re welcome, it’s not just the Jews, but the Gentiles, too, every nation is now accepted to come to Christ. That’s what David Peterson, one scholar, says.
A second view is to understand “acceptable” could mean that works like Cornelius did are good works, though they’re not meritorious and they’re not ultimately going to pass the test before God, but yet in common grace, God recognizes them as being decent and in some sense “acceptable.” That was Calvin’s view of the term.
Here’s a third view. Perhaps the word “acceptable” in verse 35 includes, looking forward, the belief that will later be mentioned in verse 43. In other words, when it says “in every nation, anyone who fears Him,” that perhaps that’s not a general sort of God-fearer but the kind of fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom, the fear of the Lord that embraces God and the person of His Son Jesus Christ, that they are acceptable because they fear Him in a saving way.
Or a fourth possibility is that “acceptable” could mean God will work wonders to seek and to find those who are genuinely searching after Him. That’s what John Piper advocates. That for people like Cornelius, if you truly fear God and you are truly doing what is devout and in some sense acceptable before Him, that God will so move by his providence to see to it that the Gospel is proclaimed to you so that you might be saved.
You could make a case for each of these interpretations, but look again at verse 4. “He stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ and he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God,'” or later in verse 31 we see the same thing, “Your alms have been remembered before God.”
I think this suggests something like option two with perhaps we can have hope toward option four. Option two was Calvin’s remark that in some lesser sense, men like Cornelius and their good deeds were found acceptable, so his alms were remembered. In other words, God looked down from heaven, He said “I take note of that. I see that what you’ve done, though it is not salvific, though you are not saved, that particular act is something that in a proximate sense can be acceptable before me.”
And might it be, as Piper suggests, that what God does hear for Cornelius He might do for people still today? That is namely He knows people who have a genuine fear of God and they are with the light that they have searching hard after God in so far as they can know Him, that God sees that, He recognizes that, and He will make every effort, and He’s God and so it’s a successful effort, to send the Gospel to those people that they might hear and believe. I would stop short of thinking we can make that case from Cornelius but we may have an example of it in Cornelius and pray that God would continue to do the same.
Here’s the point again: We need to recognize that non-Christians can be honorable, decent, devoutly religious people, and we must recognize that to be an honorable, decent, devoutly religious person does not make you a saved person. You are not going to find a better chap than this guy Cornelius, and yet clearly he needs to repent of his sins, hear of Christ, and believe in the Savior.
So do you see how we need both of these truths about Cornelius – what he was and what he was not. And if we don’t have both of these truths, you’re going to go off someday and you’re going to meet a whole bunch of really wonderful, non-Christians because there’s a lot of them, maybe some of you are visiting our church, glad you could overhear this sermon this morning, and you’re going to get your theology all mixed up. I hope parents, I hope schoolteachers, that we’re helping Christian students understand that they may go off to a secular university and they may find really nice, decent, moral non-Christian people. I hope we’re giving them a category like Cornelius so they don’t go off and they say, “Mom, Dad, I don’t know what to do. My professor here is so smart and he’s really, really nice and he takes a real interest in me and he seems to all that he’s talking about and he doesn’t want anything to do with Christ, so how can I really believe what I’ve been told?”
I think of a professor, and I went to a Christian college, I think of a professor I had who I think he would have called himself certainly an inclusivist, maybe more like a pluralist, I think, in his view of salvation, and the way he told it, whether it was accurate or not it was his own perception, he grew up in a very strict or fundamentalist perhaps sort of Christian upbringing, and at some point he started taking trips to India, and he met wonderfully generous Hindus, people invited him into their home and he became really sympathetic and enamored with many aspects of the Hindu religion. He never, this professor, rejected his Christianity, but if you went and visited him in his office, it was all sorts of Hindu little trinkets and gods and goddesses and the way he taught his world religion course was very much to expect that God was so massive that He could save people in so many different ways and there were lots of people who never heard of Christ who were already saved and going to be with you in heaven. And he was quite clear as he told his story that it was his trip to India that made him change his theology.
Now I don’t know that a right understanding of Cornelius would have prevented that, but it’s certainly one of the things that we need to have in place. Here’s a man, he’s a good man, he’s a religious man, you would like this man, you would be happy to have him at your birthday party… And you don’t need to change your whole theology to incorporate someone like that into your thinking. Good man, not a saved man.
So what, then, did he become? We saw what he was, we saw what he was not, finally notice what he became. He went from sincere and religious and lost to repentant, believing, and saved.
So we first meet him, in the first eight verses he has an angelic vision send men to Joppa, get Peter. He obeys immediately. I bet he obeys better than some of us would have if an angel appeared to us. Some of us would be like our children, “Hold on a second, I’m checking something on my phone. You’re shiny, but this is shinier.” No, he obeys immediately, sends two servants, devout soldier to Joppa.
And there, before they’re going to intersect with Peter, we find that Peter is having his own divine encounter. While they’re on their way, Peter receives a vision. He goes out on the housetop at noon to pray, and I know this isn’t the point of the passage but I’m somewhat encouraged that he got hungry when he was praying. Does that ever happen? Okay. I’m glad. It happens to me often. I’m praying, I’m hungry. Actually, I’m praying, I’m distracted by everything else in the world.
So Peter was hungry. Now this hasn’t happened to me – a sheet of animals lowered from heaven, rise, kill, and eat. I can see all the hunters out there just circling it, just, “Honey, did you see it? It’s right there. It’s right there. This is why I’m going to be gone for the next month. It’s right there.”
Of course, the point here is not about hunting, it’s about the transition and redemptive historical movement. The voice comes back a second time and a third time. It’s like what Jesus says in Mark chapter 7 where He pronounces all foods clean, what God has made clean, do not call uncommon. You’ve had all these food laws, and now enjoy the buffet, Peter. Let me introduce to something we call bacon. It’s a great gift.
I’ve made the note before, it’s not original to me, that whereas in earlier times, in say Christian culture in history, Christians understood that God came and in the first century He actually made rules regarding sex much more stringent and He made rules regarding food much more lax, now as we move away from a Christian culture, don’t we see just the opposite happening in our day? Lots of secular people, very strict rules about food – about the sort of foods you can eat, about what it’s going to do your body. Of course we want to be healthy, we want to pay attent- but very strict rules about where the food comes from, how it’s processed, lots of food rules that we have now that we didn’t have 20 years ago. Fewer rules, for sure, about sex.
So as the two cultures unfortunately retreating, one growing, though let’s pray it’s not the case, we see the reversal of what we see here. There are going to be new rules about sex with the coming of Christianity, not because God is so interested in, in making lots of rules, but because sex is such a gift. And food also is a gift, and so it’s opened up to God’s people.
But Peter at this point is confused about the vision and the voice, until the men of correlation arrive and Peter is prompted by the Spirit, he meets them the next day, they head off to Caesarea to meet Cornelius, he’s expecting them. He falls down at Peter’s feet.
So here’s another indication Cornelius is a devout man, but he’s not yet a converted man, he’s worshiping at Peter’s feet. Peter, unlike Herod in chapter 12, refuses the worship. Just, just mental note, if for any reason, I don’t know why it would happen, someone falls at your feet to worship you, tell them to stand up. You don’t know what’s going to happen next to you if you don’t.
So Peter says “get up, I’m a man” and then verses 28 and 29 present the problem. You yourselves know it’s unlawful for a Jew to associate or to visit anyone of another nation. But here’s the new solution: God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when God breaks down barriers, it’s not just vertical, it’s horizontal. But the Gospel first of all reconciles us to God, but then as we are reconciled to God, it reconciles us one to another.
We used to have enmity between us and God, but not anymore. We used to have enmity between races or ethnicities, and God says “No, you come together in Christ. You don’t call one common or unclean.”
Peter’s vision was ostensibly about food, but he understands immediately the most important application is about people. Before he had kind of a, you know, ceremonial celiac disease, “I cannot go in your house, there’s Gentile gluten here, and it’s just sort of in the air and it’s on your dishes, and I’m going to get very ritually sick if I’m with you.” And God says, “Turn the page, Peter. Don’t call those people common or unclean.”
And Cornelius explains that happens, and this time in verse 33 he adds one more important piece of information: “I sent for you, you’ve been kind enough to come, now therefore we are all here.”
Now, this, this is a preacher’s dream. We are here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord. He says, “Look, Peter, you’re here, we want a sermon. Because God sent an angel, and he told me that I need to hear something from you, so give it to me.”
Incidentally, this is what is happening as we hear stories from time to time of Muslims receiving dreams and visions. I’ve heard too many instances of this from missionaries that I know and trust and aren’t prone to excesses or extravagances to believe that this does happen, but you must realize it’s not Muslims in dreams and visions hearing the Gospel, but it’s in dreams and visions “go talk to this man, go meet this person, go find a Bible, go find somewhere” and then they receive the Gospel through a Bible or through a Christian or through a church. I believe that God can still work in these supernatural ways.
Peter gives his speech. The summary statement of the sermon is found in verse 36: “As for the word that He sent to Israel preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ, He is Lord of all.” And then he recounts His life, His death, His resurrection, His coming again to judge the living and the dead, and then finally, like a good sermon, verse 43 is the application: “All the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” This is likely just a summary of a much longer message. Yeah, don’t tell me, “hey, Pastor, Peter’s sermons were like 45 seconds long.” It’s a summary.
But the final point is clear: Cornelius, you, you can know this Savior, believe in Him, you can be forgiven by God, repent, believe in Christ.
And so they do. We’ll read more of that in chapter 11.
You see, Peter needed to know that it was okay to come to Cornelius and have fellowship with him. Cornelius needed to know how they could have fellowship with God. And then in verses 44 through 48, the Spirit’s confirmation. As the Holy Spirit falls, they speak in tongues, they praise God, they’re about to get baptized. This is the final confirmation that the Gentiles have received the Gospel and God has received them.
You could do a study through the book of Acts and see that there’s not a discernible pattern on whether the Spirit falls and tongues and prophecy and baptism, sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s in one order, sometimes another, which strongly suggests that these are descriptive more than they are prescriptive. That is, they describe what happened in this apostolic age as the Spirit fell more than they prescribe that this is the pattern that will always take place.
But here the gift of the Holy Spirit in such discernible measure is to make public acclimation that God has received these Gentiles and they are His people.
I want you to notice as we close, what made a way for Cornelius to come to Christ? Because up to this point, a lot of cool things have happened to Cornelius. This has been quite a week for Cornie. An amazing few days. I mean, this would have been a week to remember for the rest of his life. They would have said, “Oh, remember that week? Oh, yeah, crazy. An angel came and visited me and I sent people to find this Peter and then he came back and he, too, had a weird vision with a sheet and animals. And then we met and we became such good friends and man, that was an amazing week.”
And if that’s all that happened, angelic visitation, miracles, he would not have been saved because he would not have heard the Gospel. There was nothing to save him yet. He experienced great miracles, but more important than all of that, he needed to hear the Good News. He needed Peter’s sermon: There’s a man, Jesus Christ, He’s Lord of all, He came, He lived, He taught, He died, He rose again, He appeared to us, and in His name and in His name only, is found forgiveness of sin.
It’s as Paul says in Romans 10: “How shall they hear without a preacher?”
So let me give you two questions to ponder as we close. Is God calling you to be a Peter? That’s the first question. Is God calling you to be a Peter? Has God arranged for you, now you didn’t receive a trance, a vision, a sheet, but no less miraculously, is God arranging for you to be a Peter in the life of some Cornelius? That God has so orchestrated that person in your cubicle, that person in your class, that person on your street, that person at the weight bench next to you, to bring you together.
You have kids, you have grandkids, you have loved ones. You pray for them. You have loved ones in your life who don’t know Jesus and you pray for them, some of you, every single day. You pray for kids, for grandkids, for nieces, for nephews, that someone would share the Gospel with them, invite them to a good church. Do you think there’s some mom or dad or grandma or grandpa or former roommate praying for you to be that person? For someone that’s moved to Charlotte, moved to your office, moved to your neighborhood, moved to your retirement center? Is God calling you to be a Peter to some Cornelius, so arranged that relationship and you are going to be the one to speak of Christ?
Here’s my second question: Is God calling you to Himself because if truth be told, you’re a Cornelius?
So the first question, are you a Peter for a Cornelius? The second question, might you be a Cornelius?
The Lord knows that Charlotte, North Carolina is filled, probably hundreds of thousands, of Cornelei. And might you be one of them? You are a nice person. Many people would say, “She is a very good lady.” You’re sincere. You’re decent. You’re trustworthy. People like you. You have a good reputation. You’ve been successful. People at the office like you. People at school like you. You’re a respectable person. You’re a religious person. You’re happy. You, you like good things about God. You’re what might be called a Christ-fearer. You are sympathetic to Christianity. You like the church. You know many Christians. But might you be another Cornelius? And though you are devout, and though you are religious, and though you are sympathetic to Christianity, you are not yet really a saved Christian. Perhaps your prayers, your dedication, your searching, have risen to God as a kind of acceptable offering, but now He wants to share with you the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, because it isn’t enough to be decent and devout and religious. You must repent and believe and follow.
God is still saving sinners. I am not a world traveler, but I’ve been to a number of places and I can tell you from all over the world, places in Western Europe that you would have thought were long gone for the Gospel, places in the Muslim world, places in the Middle East, places in India, places in Africa, places in South America and Latin America…. God is doing amazing things. The Gospel still saves.
And the Gospel is still powerful enough to save you. Some of you are a Peter, and some of you may be a Cornelius.
Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, may today be the day of salvation for some. May this week be the week where we come to grips. We thought we knew Christ, but we were only Christ-fearers. We thought we were Christians, but we were just friends with a lot of Christianity. May this week be the week where we’re honest with ourselves, with what we really believe, where we’ve really been, what we really think, what we’ve really repented of. And Lord, may this be the week where You give us opportunity as a Peter to a Cornelius to speak of the Good News of peace. The only name given among men whereby we can be saved, the name of Jesus, in whose name we pray all these things. Amen.