"At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God who came to him and said, 'Cornelius!' Cornelius stared at him in fear, 'What is it, Lord?' he asked. The angel answered, 'Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.'" (Acts 10: 1-5)
Good morning. I hope you are having a great day. Today we are going to revisit Peter. The last time we saw him he was preaching a sermon on the Day of Pentecost. That sermon was so good that thousands came to the altar. (Not really, but they were convicted, repented and were baptized) Now, Peter is hanging out at a tanner's house. Where is this house? It is by the sea. This makes me believe even more that there is so much about the lives of the disciples before and after the death of Jesus that we don't know about.
In today's lesson we are introduced to a character named Cornelius who is a Roman centurion. A centurion was the captain of one hundred soldiers. When you think of centurion you also think of the word century. (both meaning one hundred) Cornelius was not a Christian (Remember that none of them were called Christians at this point), but was a Gentile who sought God.
There are a couple of things I think we should pay attention to from the above passage. First, notice when Cornelius prayed. He prayed at about three in the afternoon. This was a traditional time for prayer for the Jews. But, Cornelius is a Gentile. If you read Acts 3:1 you will discover that "One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o'clock in the afternoon." By stating this about Cornelius praying Luke wants us to see how committed Cornelius was to God. Second, the angel makes it clear that Cornelius' work for the poor have not gone un-noticed. They "have come up as a memorial offering before God." ( verse 4b) Jesus made it clear in Matthew, twenty-five that by giving to those in need we are giving to him.
Well, while Cornelius is praying where is Peter? He is by the sea. But, the next day at about noon, Peter goes up to "the roof to pray." (Acts 10:9) Now, I know I find humor in things that may not be meant to be humorous, but I can't help to see some humor in what we are told next. Peter went up to the roof to pray, but before he prays (we are not told he prayed) "he became hungry and wanted something to eat." (Acts 10:10) My wife will tell you that when we go shopping I have a philosophy: No shopping on an empty stomach. Poor Peter couldn't pray on an empty stomach, in fact, "he fell into a trance." (Acts 10:10b)
As Cornelius had a vision at the beginning of this story Peter now has one of his one. This vision is very interesting. "he saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. it contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' 'Surely not, Lord!' Peter replied. 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.' The voice spoke to him a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (Acts 10:11-15) The classification of the animals was conventional and can be traced back to Genesis and the creation story. You may remember that there were certain classes of animals that Jews were forbidden to eat.
What is happening in this story? Well, Peter is being sent to the house of Cornelius who is a Gentile. When Peter arrived he said: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God had shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." (Acts 10:28) Peter has essentially solved the riddle of the dream he had. However, Peter sharply exaggerates Jewish Law by stating that Jews could not associate with or visit Gentiles. Jesus himself didn't follow any such law. I am convinced that even today people exaggerate the truth of God's word. Could it have been that Peter just didn't want to associate with or visit Gentiles?
Well, Peter "without raising any objection" (Acts 10:29) went to the house of Cornelius. Though he "went without objection" he got right to the point: "What do you want?" (Paraphrase of 10:29b) Cornelius relayed to Peter his own vision. Peter then said: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:34-35) Yes, this is what the story is about. The good news being taken into all the world. Here, a centurion and his household hear the word, are filled with the Holy Spirit (just as the disciples were) and are baptized. Therefore, Gentiles have been brought into the Body of Christ.
The story today helps set the stage for what is to come. Join me the next time as we are officially introduced to the "Christians."