Summary: We all have built-in prejudices that God must break down before we be truly effective with the Gospel. We see Him doing just that in our text.
When human barriers come down, HEAVENLY BLESSINGS come down!
Have you ever noticed that the guy driving slower
than you is always a jerk, whereas the guy driving faster than you is always a maniac? By fallen nature, we’re all prone to justify ourselves and to condemn those who are different than we are. We’re prone to judge others according to outward characteristics, rather than to accept them as individual human beings on an equal par with us.
We’re all prone toward prejudice in some form or another. But for God to use us effectively in His purpose, He must break us of our prejudices.
We all have built-in prejudices that God must break down before we be truly effective with the Gospel. We see Him doing just that in our text.
I. The Initiator of the Gospel Work
Watching the unfolding drama of Cornelius’ conversion shows that this was not a mere accident or chance. The careful, detailed hand of a Sovereign God works through the personalities involved to bring about His saving work among the Gentiles. While we see the outward work of the messenger presenting the gospel and the believer responding, behind it all was our great God who was working in the secret places of men’s hearts that He might be glorified in the saving of sinners.
A. The SINNER - Cornelius
Up to this point in the history of the early church, the gospel had been carried only to the Jews and Samaritans, which were half-Jews and worshipers of Jehovah.
There is the solitary incident of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, who himself was a worshiper of Jehovah. But there had been no conversion of a group of Gentiles which represented the mass of population outside Judaism. Carrying the gospel to Cornelius represented a new step in the gospel work of the church. They had kept to themselves, i.e., to Jews only. Now they would branch out into the forbidden realm of Gentiles. This was not just a little hurdle for these Jewish Christians. This was leaping across a chasm that no Jew was willing to cross.
It all commences with the gentile named Cornelius.
1. Cornelius was a man of character, because he as a “devout man” who “feared God with all his house.”
2. He was a man of charity, because “he gave much alms to the people.”
3. He was a man of communion, because he “prayed to God alway.”
Yet, in spite of all of those genuine qualities, Cornelius was still a lost Gentile, and up to this point a formidable barrier existed between the Jews and the Gentiles.
He was a Military Man - "centurion"
He was a Moral Man - "a just man, and one who feareth God"
He was a Model Man - "of good reputation among all the nation of the Jews" He was a good man, but he still needed to be saved.
B. The Servant - Peter
Peter seems to be the main character of the first half of the book of Acts. He was the chief spokesman for the apostles and the clear leader of the early church.
Peter would not voluntarily come up with the idea of carrying the gospel to the Gentiles. Such a move would have been offensive to the Jewish mind. Yet this was the clear mandate of Jesus Christ to the disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Obstacles of tradition in Peter’s mind would have to be conquered for him to move outside the comfortable setting of Judaism.
He was beginning to move away from the enslaving traditions that held his nation in spiritual bondage. This is evident by his staying for a period of time ("many days" in 9:43) with a tanner by the name of Simon in the city of Joppa. Tanners were considered to be despicable among Jews because their trade was unclean. They continually dealt in dead animals, touching them, handling them, working with them. Such a practice caused a person to be ceremonially unclean so that he could not participate in the religious practices of Judaism. The trade of a tanner was on par with being a leper. For Peter to stay with Simon the tanner showed that the legalism and prejudice in which he was reared was beginning to be stripped away by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
Peter was God’s choice instrument to break down this massive barrier held in the minds of the Jewish Christians concerning the furtherance of the gospel among the Gentiles. If Peter could go to the Gentiles, then so could every other Jewish Christian! Behind his going was the secret working of God.
God was at work with both men to prepare and bring them together. While God prepared Cornelius for Peter, He was also preparing Peter for Cornelius.