Summary: We need to run to the waters of baptism and drown our old sin-filled lives. We need to be raised from spiritual death and filled with a passion for the Gospel, because it will make one helluva difference in our world.
The events we just heard about in Acts 10:44-48 occur as part of Peter’s first sermon to the Gentiles. Peter had received a vision from God. In that vision, a sheet unfolded from heaven. On that sheet were animals of all kinds, including animals that were unclean under Jewish law. God commanded Peter to eat, but Peter refused because of Jewish dietary laws. God replied that he has made these animals clean and what he made clean could be eaten. This vision was a metaphor for God’s command to expand Christianity to include the Gentiles, who were also considered to be unclean by the Jews.
At the same time Peter had his vision, Cornelius had a vision. Cornelius was a Roman centurion in Caesarea. He and his whole household (family members and servants) were God-fearing people. They accepted both the Jewish concept of one God and Jewish ethics. They may even have attended the local synagogue. Because they were Gentiles, they were not people Peter and others in the Jewish community would have thought to be included in God’s plan of salvation.
As a result of that vision, Cornelius sent representatives to see Peter and invite him to come and teach him and his family. Just as in Peter’s vision, God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. It was during that meeting that the Holy Spirit came and touched Cornelius and his household. God sent several Jewish believers to accompany Peter, so together they could be witnesses when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and his household.
Cornelius was a tough Roman soldier, but he was also drawn to the Jewish faith. He worshipped in the synagogue (albeit in a different section that was reserved for Gentile converts). Since the Jews treated the Gentiles with disdain, it’s a wonder that Cornelius put up with that treatment. Well, he did, because he was a seeker. Something told him that there was more to life than his earthly life. Something told him there was a God. His desire to know God was stronger than the rude treatment he received from the Jews. Even though the Jews welcomed Gentile converts, these converts were never completely accepted. Cornelius’ beliefs changed his behaviour and his personality. He gave alms to the poor and supported the synagogue.
Honest seekers find what they are looking for. Jeremiah 29:13 states that God promises to hear the prayers of those who are looking for him. God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to these Gentiles as a sign of his plan to accept Gentiles into the church without prior conversion to the Jewish faith. This more than makes up for humiliation and ridicule.
When the Holy Spirit touched Cornelius and his family, Peter immediately saw it as an opportunity to baptize them. Since they had received the substance of what the sign of water baptism points to, and since they had been changed by the Holy Spirit, it was inappropriate to withhold the sign that they were part of the body of believers. Baptism is not about salvation or going to heaven. The thief who died on the cross who believed in Jesus was not baptized before he died. Baptism is about being obedient to God, who commanded believers to be baptized once they became his disciples. The baptism of Cornelius and his household must have been one of the most joyous and moving in history. It, like all baptisms with water, was the outward sign of the inner Spirit baptism which had taken place. History was made, and consequently the Christian church took a whole new direction.
Acts 10 marks the expansion of Christianity to include the Gentiles. This expansion was approved by both Peter and Paul. Without expansion, Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism. Acts 10:44-48 marks a major shift in Peter’s ministry. It’s Peter’s conversion of sorts. He is torn between custom and convictions. The Holy Spirit whittled away the hardness of Peter’s heart toward those he had been taught to avoid. The Holy Spirit was the true preacher. It makes God’s Word come alive through-or in spite of-our words. It renegotiates our perceptions of others and what they can or cannot do. It changes our own character and leads us to other people whom God loves.
The Holy Spirit allows us to see things in new ways, just like Peter saw things in a new way because of his vision. The Holy Spirit opened Peter to new insights. It also gives us new insights into who needs to be a part of our church family. These insights force us to open our eyes and hearts to those who the world rejects. There is no room in the church for divisions caused by race, colour, social status or other divisions such as the one caused by your recent decision to tear down your church and build a new one or divisions caused by people who belong to different denominations. For example, my father told me that one time when he was in the local post office picking up mail a lady asked him what church he belonged to. When he said that he belonged to the Anglican Church in Liverpool, the lady replied, “Well, that’s what I was afraid of!” She turned around and walked right out of the post office!