Summary: How Peter’s vision changed the outreach of the church.
A Study of the Book of Acts
Sermon # 20
“A Vision that Changed the World”
God had called the people of Israel to a special relationship with Him so that they might be His people, his witnesses, His missionaries to the rest of the world. God had entrusted them with His Word so that they could tell the rest of the world about Him. They were to be witness that God is, that God exists and that men are to worship and serve Him and Him alone. But somewhere along the way the Jews had forgotten their purpose, instead of proclaiming God they had created barriers between themselves and the rest of the world.
The Jews had come to believe that salvation was not just “of the Jews” and had been brought to pass through a Jew – the Lord Jesus Christ, but also believed that salvation was primarily “for the Jews.”
It was into such a world that church was born. The Apostle Peter, as a good Jew, had been taught, not to have anything to do with a Gentile. If he touched one even accidentally on the street he would have to go home and wash. It is easy to see what this attitude, if carried over into the church, would have done to the spread of the gospel. Large areas of the world would have written off as being beyond the grace of God. All of us as Gentile believers would be without Christ.
But you will recall that Peter has been drawn by the Holy Spirit’s guidance from one human need to another until he ended up in the city of Joppa at the house of Simon the tanner. God had begun to progressively lead Peter away from his man-made legalist attitude. The very fact that Peter was willing to stay in the home of Simon the tanner was evidence of the softening of his legalist spirit. While God was drawing Peter away from his prejudice, He was drawing another man toward Him and ultimately toward Peter.
I. THE INTRODUCTION OF THE VISION
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, (2) a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (3) About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” (4) And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” (5) So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (5) Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. (6) He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (7) And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. (8) So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
Cornelius was a military man, a member of a regiment that was made up of freedmen from Italy and who were rewarded with Roman citizenship in recognition of their valor as soldiers. A centurion was a non-commissioned officer, perhaps equivalent to today’s rank of captain, who commanded a group of about 100 soldiers.
Cornelius is portrayed as a godly man. We are told that he is “devout” that is that he knows there is a god and he is seeking him. We are also told that he “fears God” that is that he lives his life as if he is answerable to God. We are also told that he is a generous man, one who gives to those in need. And we are told that he is a praying man.
Here is a man that is religious, sincere, prayerful and yet he is not saved. There are still many people today who think that all you need to make it to heaven is to be religious, sincere, to live a good clean moral life. Cornelius’ position points out clearly that one can have all of that and still be lost.
The angel who appears to Cornelius tells him to send down to Joppa for a man named Peter who is staying in the house of Simon the tanner. I believe that had God not commanded Cornelius to send for Peter, he would have gone to him, to avoid any problems. But you see, God wanted to force this issue, so that he could correct Peter’s attitudes and long with him all of the other Jewish Christians.