Summary: A series of character sketches in the book of Acts - Cornelius and Peter.
Acts 10:1-48 – God’s Power Through God’s People #8: Cornelius and Peter
So we’ve been working through the book of Acts this fall, looking at how God used His people in the early church to accomplish great things, making the world a better place. Today we come to an interesting story. There is so much to be said about this, that a person couldn’t possibly say it all in one sermon. The story involves Cornelius and Peter. I’m going to spend a few minutes today looking at the idea of divine appointments.
First, who was Cornelius? Let’s read Acts 10:1-2. We know a few things about this guy.
1) He was a centurion in the Roman army. He was a high-ranking officer with many soldiers under his command. That means he was good at what he did. He was good at giving and following through with orders. But he certainly sit around, barking orders at his minions. Rather, we know a fair amount of his character.
2) He was devout – that means he was sincere and devoted to God. In fact, not just he, but he raised his family to do so as well. He was generous to those who needed financial help, and he prayed regularly. KJV says, “always”. He always prayed. In addition to these verses, 10:22 adds that he was just or righteous, and that Jews respected him. So, he took his religion seriously. Even though he was neither Jewish nor Christian at that time, he was a good and religious man, and religious people respected him. That really says a lot.
3) We know he was Italian, not just from the fact that he was leader of a group of soldiers known as the Italian band, but from his name as well. That means he was, as they say, a stranger from away. He had come from a country far away to live in a foreign area. That was normal Roman practice. As the empire spread out further and further, they brought nationals to these remote places to keep Roman rule and order. Plus, the Jewish people tended to revolt, not enjoying being ruled from Gentile foreigners. Who could blame them? But that meant that the powers-that-be had to keep a tighter thumb on the Palestine region. Cornelius was one such, um, thumb.
And yet, he did his job well. He kept control of the Jewish region he was assigned to, but with fairness and integrity. He took his Gentile religion seriously, to the point that Jews considered him real and honest.
And it was time for him to meet the object of his devotion. He didn’t really know the God he was praying to. He knew that God was real, but he hadn’t been schooled in the Jewish tradition. Like most people today, he likely had a vague notion of God, but lacking in real knowledge of how God moves. It’s quite impressive that all those positive things were said about him, despite the fact that he was neither Jewish nor Christian. But he still needed to get to know God personally.
So an angel of the Lord appeared to Cornelius in a vision, and told him to send people to retrieve a certain guy staying in Joppa, some 25 miles away, down the coast.
Which is where Peter enters the story. You know Peter: the disciple who stumbled in his faith, but believed anyway. And was completely changed by Jesus’ belief in him. Peter became a leader in the early church, and was staying in Joppa at the exact time of Cornelius’ vision. And he had a vision, himself. Read Acts 10:9-16.
A vision about unclean animals being lowered down from heaven in a sheet. Almost a tablecloth from God, saying, “Go ahead and dig in.” Of course this was confusing to Peter, a good Jewish boy who would never eat scallops, clams, or lobsters, bacon, sausage, or porkchops. But he wasn’t going to have much time to ponder this revelation – Cornelius’ messengers were about to arrive at the place Peter was staying. The Spirit spoke to Peter and said, “Some guys are here for you. Go with them.” 10:21-23a picks up from here.
So here was Cornelius with a vision, with an angel of God telling him to send for a guy named Peter. And here was Peter with a vision about God doing away with the old rules of clean and unclean, and the Spirit telling him to go with people to see someone. I think this is a beautifully orchestrated event, compiled by God to create a change in the world.
I mean, let’s look at this a little more. You can see God’s humour in this too. Where was Peter? He was in a coastal town called Joppa. This is the same town that Jonah ran to when he didn’t want to go preach to those troublesome Ninevites, those awful Gentiles. Jonah wanted nothing to do with those violent scofflaws, and he went in the exact opposite direction, with the idea of sailing away from God and God’s people altogether. Joppa was where he hitched a ride to Spain because of his hatred of non-Jewish people.