1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4And 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. 5And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
So far in the Book of Acts, we’ve seen a definite progression beginning with the Gospel in Jerusalem during Pentecost. It then spread through Judea and into Samaria and even was beginning to go out to the ends of the earth as the disciples were scattered by persecution. Acts Chapter 9 recorded the conversion of Saul, who was to become the Apostle Paul who would be the Apostle to the Gentiles. But, before Paul was to begin his evangelistic journeys, Peter was actually the Apostle to break ground in evangelizing Gentiles.
As obvious as it seems that the Gospel should have gone out to the Gentiles to us who are sitting here today, it wasn’t at all obvious to the disciples or to Peter. It probably should have been as it was hinted at during Christ’s ministry but, you have to remember, centuries of the Old Covenant had seared in the minds of the believers that the Covenant was for a particular culturally and ethnically distinct people. A person could convert to Judaism but would have to go through many ritual cleansing rites and eventually be circumcised into Covenant membership. For all intents and purposes, the world at large was barred from participating in worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob unless they ceremonially prepared themselves for that worship. Even though Christ had removed the separation between God and redeemed sinners by the veil of His flesh at His death, it was still natural for the early Christians to still consider ceremonial laws as part of a Christian’s reasonable service and minimum level of participation.
In the fullness of time, then, when God was ready to reveal the fulfillment of the Promise to Abraham that, in him, all the nations would be blessed, He sent an angel to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea while he was praying. Acts called him devout and one who feared God. This was a category of Gentile to the Jew. Such men would attend Synagogue worship and offer alms but could not fully participate in all the ceremonies of the Old Covenant because they were not circumcised.
Cornelius, though, had been blessed to be exposed to the oracles of God and the truths of the Word. His worship was looking to God for salvation and, I believe, he had regularly prayed to be saved by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like Rahab and Ruth before him, this Gentile wanted Israel’s God to be His God and he turned his back on all the false gods of the Roman pantheon to worship to One, Holy and Living God. Believing in Him, he was known for his devotion and for his generosity to the poor.
God’s Word had made Cornelius a seeker after the Truth but he still had not received the Promise of salvation found in Christ. He did not know it but God had come looking for him and, with a glorious announcement from an angel, told Cornelius he had heard his prayers and that his gifts to the poor were remembered on high. He was commanded to bring the Apostle Peter to his house so he could hear the message of salvation.
God fully intended to save Cornelius and His household but it is important to note that He was sending a Gospel bearer to Cornelius. He didn’t reveal the Gospel directly to Him apart from the Word or apart from the means of an Evangelist. Only the Apostles were taught directly by God in Christ. Apostles were to bear witness in the Gospel of these truths and we are not to expect that God simply reveals Christ directly to men and women apart from those that are sent out today. As Romans 10 tells us: “…how can they hear unless someone is sent….”
It takes about 10 hours to walk from Caesarea to Joppa where Peter was staying, so by the time the soldiers arrived where Peter was staying it was about noon the next day after an overnight stay somewhere.
Meanwhile, Peter was praying before lunch and went into a trance. This was not a normal experience for Peter as this passage indicates the unique experience.
Peter saw a blanket with all the different kinds of animals and insects on it. All kind of clean and unclean animals were on this blanket. The command from on high was to kill and eat.
Peter’s response is actually Scriptural. He quotes Ezekiel 4:14 noting that he has kept himself undefiled from eating unclean animals since he was a youth. I think he thought he was on safe ground here for doing so. Perhaps he thought it was a test.
But God’s response says much more than about food when He responds that “…what God has called clean do not call common….” The unclean animals and the dietary rules were a picture of the separation between Jew and Gentile that had existed. God was abrogating the dietary laws and laws of separation between Jew and Gentile to herald that the Gospel would be for the Gentiles too. He had to shock the system of Peter to tell him that He was now saying that, even as these foods were clean, so were the Gentiles. It wasn’t enough for this to happen once or twice but God had to tell Peter three times so the point could be driven home.
17Now 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 18and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22And 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.” 23So he invited them in to be his guests.
Now we see why Peter what Peter was being made ready for. Some commentators have dated this event to the time of a Jewish persecution by the Emperor Caligula. He had become angry with the Jews and had directed that an idol be place in the Temple of the Lord. The Jews had convinced the Roman governor to appeal this decision and Caligula died before the appeal could be acted upon.
In any event, the situation with the Romans was always tense. The Romans were not welcomed visitors by the Jews and the Church, especially, had been harmed by the Jewish leaders sometimes using the Romans against them.
So when two soldiers came to a Jewish home looking for Peter, it must have been quite difficult. I will also note that when God wants to teach us something He does so in a way that will make us extremely uncomfortable and to set up a situation that would really drive home a point. He could have caused the Gospel to spread to Egyptian or Arabic Gentiles first but He made a strong point that it was Roman soldiers that would receive it.
Peter was expecting them by now and agrees to go with them but did you also notice that the Roman soldiers stayed with him that night. The vision was already enough to teach Peter that God was no respecter of men. Peter no longer considered Gentiles to be unclean. He no longer separated himself physically from their presence.
Now you might think that God just immediately changed Peter’s revulsion to Gentiles. I think Galatians 2 reveals differently. We have a crazy idea that obedience to God is on the basis of an unblemished desire to do the right thing but the truth is that real faith sometimes demands that we walk by faith and not by sight. We may we be revolted by the thing we are commanded to love but if we wait until warm and fuzzy feeling develop then we will never obey the law of Love.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28And 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. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
30And 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 31and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33So 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.”
I love all the little details that Luke provides us. We’re told that Cornelius was expecting Peter and had invited over all his relatives and close friends for this meeting. It wasn’t as if Cornelius could send Peter and e-mail and Peter could just get into his car and zip over to Cornelius house in a few minutes. It had taken days but Cornelius is waiting anxiously, expectantly. He’s been Promised by God that he will hear a message about God from Peter.
Now, I wonder right now as I’m saying this how many of you are simply bored by that idea. What if somebody told you that you were going to receive a message from God in four days. Would that be exciting for you? In fact, beloved, were you anxious today to come to worship so you could hear the Word of God and receive what God had intended to speak to you this day through His Word? Or maybe you consider to be boring the very Words of Life.
Cornelius knew how important this appointment was. He also knew this wasn’t simply about a very personal relationship. He wasn’t deceived into thinking that his relatives and friends have religion too and didn’t need this message. No. He loved them and so he reasoned correctly that everyone he cared for should be at his home that day to hear the message of salvation.
Peter asked Cornelius to explain why he had asked for him to come and this confirmed to Peter that God was sending him on an errand to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
34So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), 37you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38how 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. 39And 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, 40but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 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. 42And 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. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And 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. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
As we’ve been going through the Acts, have any of you noticed how much different the Gospel is presented than what many of us have become accustomed to understanding in recent years. As we’ve already seen over and over again even in Acts, just because a man grows up with a religious understanding doesn’t mean it’s the Scriptural way. The Sanhedrin and the Pharisees missed Christ altogether and, because of the way they were taught to understand the Scriptures didn’t bother to conform themselves to the Word when it was explained to them.
So, when I’m showing you the way the Apostles preached the Word of God and “gave their testimony”, I hope you will start to have a better Biblical appreciation for what our testimony of Christ really is.
You see, didn’t Peter have a better story he could tell about his personal life than you? Didn’t Peter have a better story to tell about how much Jesus meant to him and made his life better?
Of course he did. But did Peter point to his own life as his “testimony”? When presenting the Gospel, did Peter talk about how Jesus made him feel?
No. Just like other times when the Gospel was presented the character that took center stage was Christ. Peter proclaimed the death and resurrection of Christ for the sins of mankind. He testified not of himself or his feelings but of a historical person who was the God-man who died for our sins, rose for our justification, and sits at the right hand of God on high. He testified that everyone who believes upon the name of Christ will be saved from their sins.
That’s a story that only a Christian can tell. That the type of News that a Christian should tell. The Muslim can talk about how much Allah makes his life happy. The Mormon can talk about how wonderful his life is since he believed his false God.
But only the Christian can testify truly concerning Christ and His work. Only the Christian has the true hope inside of him because that hope is directed that the work of a perfect mediator. That faith is directed to real events that are the bedrock of our soul.
In short, we need to know what Christ has done not only that we might understand Who it is that we have believed but we need to understand Christ and His work so we can proclaim it properly. Christ did not simply come to give us all fuzzy feelings that we cannot describe other than to give others the promise that they can have fuzzy feelings too.
And while Peter was preaching this Gospel, God did an amazing thing that day. He poured out His Spirit with power upon all the Gentile hearers. He poured it out in view of Peter and the other Jews he had brought as witnesses with him.
With that powerful act, God astonished Peter and the Jews. He literally took a wrecking ball and knocked down the barriers that had once stood between the unclean Gentiles and clean Jews. Just as He had promised to Abraham, all the nations of the world would be blessed. It had finally come to pass. The Seed of Abraham, Christ, had provided access through the veil of His flesh for all to approach God boldly by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Jew had always had ceremonial access to the house of worship where God had commanded central worship but his conscience could not be cleansed. Christ cleanses both the consciences of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. There is now no longer a distinction because God gives His Spirit as an earnest, as a seal that these are mine to everybody who believes.
Acts Chapter 11 records that Peter was taken to task for entering the home of a Gentile and staying with him. How could he do such a thing. Peter told the story and then pointed out to them that the Gentiles had received the Spirit.
15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18When 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.”
Indeed, this was the meaning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the unity that Jew and Gentile had together. God had spoken to the Jews and let them know: “I have baptized them with the Holy Spirit to show you they are mine. They are clean because I say they are clean.” That is enough for a believer. That is enough for a man who understands that he has no access to God apart from the veil of Christ’s flesh which removes the barrier of sin and condemnation between God and man for everyone who believes.