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Salvation for Every Nation #2

04/03/2020

Salvation for Every Nation #2

Reading: Acts 10: 1-3
In the last study we found that Peter was being prepared by God for a significant development in the history of the church. Gentiles were going to become Christians. To a Jew, a righteous Jew, a Gentile was less than scum, was no better than a dog in the street. The thought of a filthy Gentile being in close contact with a Godly Jew, ceremonially cleansed, was appalling to a Jew. But God is no respecter of persons! When it comes to our lives, our works, our sins, God is completely impartial, – he has exactly the same standards for Jews, gentiles, skin colours etc etc. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

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The Jews should have known this. The OT prophets had already been teaching that the reason God had chosen the Jews, was to be ‘a light unto the Gentiles’ and an example of godly living. There are many, many examples of this throughout the OT. See… Genesis 12:3 Exodus 9:16, 1 Chronicles 16:24 Isaiah 45:22 Isaiah 49:6
Yet this prejudice against ’the nations’ persisted among the Jews, or at least among the Pharisaical element that had become the dominant force in Judaism at that time. Peter must have carried this in his DNA as well, for he needed to learn a serious lesson, and that lesson had already begun when he stayed at Simon the Tanner’s home. Now he is going to see the grace of God being extended to a Gentile, a man called Cornelius. So, the first question we must ask is who was Cornelius? It would be good to get a wee picture of this man Cornelius, in order to understand how his conversion occurred and how it will influence the church and its next stage of growth. Let’s see:-

1 Cornelius Described.
Luke begins by describing Cornelius for us in verses 1-2. Note:-1.

  • His Region. He lived in Caesarea, a garrison town, but a town with a Jewish population and a synagogue. God had him there for a purpose! He may just have been following orders from Rome, for he was not a native of Palestine, he was an Italian! But very often God engineers the situations of our lives to our benefit. He brings us into contact with others through our locations etc. I wonder what Cornelius must have thought when he heard the command to march his men down to Palestine? What a backward country, what an awful uncivilised place for a high-born Italian, with a love of good food and good entertainment! What awful, arrogant people these Jews were, thinking of him as they did, as a Gentile, as no more than a dog! But God had great plans for Cornelius! Caesarea would be the place where God would call him, convict him, draw him and save him! Let us all learn to see the hand of God in our lives! Even in our locations. God always has us here for a purpose!
  • His Rank. Cornelius was a centurion. The word band here is the Greek word κρυτπρις, which literally means a cohort, or ‘regiment.’ In the Roman Army every regiment consisted of six `centuries’ (600 men) each century under the command of a centurion. So Cornelius would have been a company commander, a Captain, in the modern army. It was a position of great importance. His soldiers would have treated him with great respect, and the local population would have feared him. He had the right of life or death over non- Roman citizens. Yet, as we shall see, he chose instead to mingle and worship with the people at the local synagogue! He must have been a gracious and big-hearted man, for many in his position would be unable to mingle with the locals, for their authority and power would have made them cruel and vindictive, and they would have thus avoided crowded places where revenge attacks could be mounted. Cornelius had no such fear.
  • His Religion. Cornelius was a devout man. He was a man who prayed ALWAYS and was full of MUCH kindness. And he ‘feared God.’
    • It is very likely that he was one of the ‘God fearers.’ These were Gentiles, who attended the synagogue, believed in the one true God of the Jews, observed the Jewish feasts and did all that was required of them under the law, with one exception. They were as yet uncircumcised, and so were still gentiles and outside the covenants of Israel. They were still ceremonially unclean, and their conversion to Judaism was not yet complete.
    • The Jews carefully guarded their religion. It was the one thing that bound them together as a people, and it gave them a distinctiveness among the other nations. What were the marks of Judaism? The main aspects of Jewish worship were prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We can see that Cornelius obeyed at least two of these, probably fasted also.
    • The Jewish belief that they were a distinctive people also led them to despise others. They looked down on the Gentiles and regarded them as less than human. There was a huge gulf between Jews and gentiles, and it was the ambition of many of the Jews to prevent that gulf from ever being bridged. We too are a distinctive, peculiar, chosen people, but we must never allow that distinctiveness to become an excuse for looking down on anyone, or holding others in despite!
  • His Responsibilities. Cornelius took his responsibilities as the head of his household seriously. He was a good father. His whole house followed his example. I can imagine the whole Cornelius family, every week, getting ready and going to church! His whole household followed his good example, he would have been a Godly influence in the home, as taught in Deuteronomy 6. His family also feared the Lord, and joined him in his acts of worship. (verse 2). It is interesting that Timothy heard the gospel and the Word of God from his mother and his grandmother! 2 Tim. 1:5. 2 Tim. 3:15

So we can see a lot here in these two verses of the character of Cornelius. If you met Cornelius at the local supermarket, or at your local church, you’d be impressed! You’d want him as a friend and you’d recommend him as a friend to others. He was a religious, church going, family man with a good heart. How many others like him do we know? Decent people who make up the majority of the population on this earth. But a man without Christ. It is quite possible for someone to be among the best of men, to be devoutly religious, to be kind and charitable, to be a good parent, even to ‘fear God’ and yet not be in a state of grace, unregenerate and in the bondage of sin.

2. Cornelius Directed.
Cornelius received a startling and direct revelation from God. Almost as startling as that of Paul himself! (But remember, that not every conversion story is like this! God deals with individuals) He was visited by an angel.

  • The time. It was the ninth hour of the day! This was no nighttime dream! (Beware of nighttime visions. I know the Lord often speaks to us in the quietness of the night, but when people say that the awoke and saw an angel, or worse still, the Lord himself at the foot of their bed, I am immediately suspicious!) Cornelius had his vision in the full light of day! But the time is ever so significant. The Bible has already told us that 3pm was one of the designated hours for prayer in the Jewish religion! Acts 3:1. Remember that Cornelius was a devout man, a God fearer, and he would have been at prayer at 3pm! He was praying, and the Lord answered his prayer, as he always does.
  • The person. It was an angel. Remember that when Paul was confronted on the road to Damascus, it was the risen Lord Himself who met him in the way. We saw that Paul said that he was the LAST to whom Christ appeared, so there are no more earthly appearances of the Lord, until He comes again, and consequently there are no more apostles, for the qualification of an apostle was that he had seen the Lord. Cornelius was spoken to by an angel. Yet in replying to the angel, he replies to the Lord! (verse 4) for an angel in an announcer! He speaks God’s message.
  • The message. Let’s look at the message of the angel to Cornelius, and allow me to generalise, and to apply a few of his words to ourselves today. Observe:-
    Our prayers and alms are accepted before the Lord. We are not told the content of Cornelius’s prayers, but they must have contained within them the humble, repentant prayer of a sinner, who wants to come to Christ, for God heard his prayers. He hears our prayers too. He listens to his people when they pray and He answers according to His will and purpose.

    • Guidance from the Lord is sometimes specific! Cornelius was told exactly what to do! It was a specific command. It’s not often like that, but sometimes it is!
      God is no respecter of persons! There is reference here to a man called Simon, who was a tanner. Tanners worked with dead animals, making leather out of their hides.
    • Someone who worked with dead things was ceremonially unclean in Judaism, yet it was this man whom God used as a contact point between Cornelius and Peter. (God was already working with Peter, preparing him to accept the ‘unclean’ as being within God’s plan for the cleansing of the nations from sin.) Don’t rule out salvation for anyone! Romans 2:11. This applies also to punishment for sin! Col. 3:25

 

3. Cornelius Decisive
Having received the message from God through the angel, Cornelius took action. He OBEYED without question! This is the response of a soldier! Remember, we are all soldiers in God’s army, how quickly will we obey when God gives us orders?

  • The promptness of his response. He did not wait. Acts 10:7
  • The selection of his messengers. Look at whom he chose to be his ambassadors. Two of his servants. He entrusted his underlings with this great task! What respect he had in his own home! Servants were slaves. Many would have taken the opportunity to escape their servitude. And with them another of his trusted men, a soldier who also was devout! What an influence Cornelius must have been!
  • The sharing of his condition. Acts 10:8 He told them what had happened, and they believed him! They knew his devotion was such that it was entirely plausible to believe that an angel would speak directly to such a man.

So, here we have the background to the conversion of Cornelius. We shall look in our next study at how Peter is prepared by God to accept a Gentile convert, and we shall see that this section is as much about Peter as it is about Cornelius. As Cornelius is converted to Christ, Peter is converted from Jewish legalism and pride!

From → Acts, Bible Study

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