Summary: God is directing the expansion of His church, and uses Cornelius as a gate between Jews and Gentiles.
Conversions in the Book of Acts> “No Partiality” Acts chapter 10 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Peter opened the door to the Gentiles, granting them full standing in the community of faith. The Gospel came to the House of Israel first, because Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, but salvation has been extended to all who call upon the Name of the Lord. And so this event in Acts 10 is pivotal. God is directing the expansion of His church, and uses Cornelius as a gate between Jews and Gentiles.
On military bases throughout the world, there are a number of Centurion Chapels, because military personnel especially identify with the Roman Centurions mentioned in the NT who came to faith in Christ. A Centurion was a non-commissioned officer in charge of a hundred soldiers, akin to a First Sergeant in today’s Army. Jesus offered tribute to a Centurion with unparalleled faith (Mt 8), and Scripture portrays the military as an honorable profession.
Cornelius, assigned to the Italian Regiment, is described as a devout God-fearer. This indicated he had renounced paganism, attended synagogue worship, and honored Jewish customs, but without converting to Judaism. We might regard him as a sympathetic seeker. God-fearers were respected, but they could not participate in worship other than as observers. Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea, a place hated by all Israelis, the HQ of the Army of Occupation, named after Caesar and complete with a temple dedicated to Emperor worship. Cornelius is told by an angel to send for Peter, who will bring the Gospel message to his house. Before Cornelius even heard the Gospel, the Spirit was preparing this Roman soldier to receive Christ. God is found by those who seek Him. This NCO was used to receiving and issuing orders, so he responds immediately, without delay, dispatching three trusted people under him to make contact with Peter. We need to be ready as well; God may have a task for us.
This chapter raises the first controversy of Christianity. Since Jesus was a Jew, many believed that before Gentiles could become followers of Christ they had to first convert to Judaism. Peter learns that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, and the world’s. Peter recognized Jesus as King of the Jews; he discovers that Jesus is also the King of the Gentiles.
Peter was beginning to see that the times were changing. The rituals of Judaism were being regarded as secondary to sincere faith. We find Peter in Joppa, 30 miles away, the same place Jonah was when told to preach to Gentiles in Nineveh. Peter was staying at the home of Simon the tanner; normally an observant Jew would avoid anyone who handled dead animals, which were ceremonially unclean. Maybe Peter was already reconsidering his position on ceremonial traditions. Peter is on the roof--not fiddling, but praying. The homes in Bible days had flat roofs with awnings and connecting staircases. This place would give him some privacy. Peter’s prayer time was about to direct him to pioneer new and unfamiliar territory.
Peter receives a vision of animals forbidden by kosher dietary laws. He is told to kill and eat them. Some see Peter’s reply as part of his brash nature--disagreeing with God, as though he knew better. It wouldn’t have been the first time; Peter argued with Jesus that He shouldn’t go to the Cross. Jonah also resisted a similar call, arguing with God and even trying to escape God’s will. However, it’s also possible that Peter viewed this as a test. On the basis of his knowledge of Scripture he answered correctly. No observant Jew would disobey God’s Law. God was re-directing Peter, but Peter thought God was testing his faith. The vision repeats itself three times. Peter had denied Christ three times, and was likely thinking, “This time I didn’t let God down.” Yet Peter is admonished, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (vs 15). This is a major readjustment to Peter’s understanding. He is being prepared to accept Cornelius’ invitation. Verse 17 suggests that Peter had some second-thoughts about the vision. The word translated “wondering” means to think thoroughly and seriously about a matter.
Perhaps Peter recalled Jesus’ teaching, “You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do” (Mt 15:11). We shouldn’t regard others as “unclean”; there’s no place for prejudice in our lives. We need to get rid of any attitude of superiority, any hostile or negative attitude towards people different from us in any way. We need to teach our children to treat others with dignity, respect, and love. We are all created in the image of God. Diversity is a good thing; distinctions should not divide us. From God’s perspective, there is only one race--the human race. Peter had to shake his exclusive ideas about faith, and he comes around; in vss 34 & 28 he states, “I’ve learned that God does not show partiality…God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” God does not discriminate. “A sheet had been let down from heaven, and Peter’s eyes were opened.”