Real Christians could have the tendency of being exclusive. By this, I mean they will restrict who may join their unique group or who may seek membership in their Church. Some will say certain ethnic groups may not, under any circumstances, join the Christian Church.
Peter was like this. To him, following Jesus and being part of God’s Kingdom was exclusively for the Hebrew people. I do not think color was the issue. For the Jew, culture was. It related to what the Gentiles did culturally and practiced religiously that mattered.
Peter is in for the shock of his life. Let me say boldly that my desire is this same shock happens to many followers of the Lord Jesus who are inclusive! We saw that Peter lodged with Simon the Tanner:
Ac 9:43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
The following section is lengthy (chapter 10:1-48), so we shall split it into sections. Our next reading is:
Ac 10:1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
(1) Caesarea was a city situated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, with a busy trade road passing by from the City of Tyre all the way to Egypt. It was roughly 112 kilometers from Jerusalem.
(2) Cornelius was an employee of the Roman Empire. As a military officer he had one hundred men under his command. He was part of a detachment known as the Italian Band or Italian Regiment. Mostly like this corps was recruited directly from Italy and were the Body Guard detailed to protect the procurator of that region.
(3) Religiously Cornelius and his family were distinguished proselytes.
(a) The men were uncircumcised.
(b) They were extremely devout with the whole family (household – including all servants) firmly established in the Jewish Faith.
(c) They feared God. There were no traces of paganism or idolatry in this family. The God of the Jews was their God.
(d) On behalf of him and his family he was generous towards those the poor and needy.
(e) He was a man of prayer. He would pray according to the set Jewish times for prayer day by day. These times were at the third, sixth and ninth hour … three hours before sunrise, then at noon and three hours after noon.
Up to this point we can only admire Cornelius and his family. They were godly and intentional. Even though they could not be fully fledged Jews, they followed God faithfully, led by a father who knew God through personal prayer. One of the huge problems we face in our Christianity today is that it is individualistic. People don’t want to go to Bible Study and Prayer Meetings and parents and especially fathers do not conduct family devotions and prayer times. Intentional Christian is replaced with “Churchiness”. Pray that God will raise up men such as Cornelius who shall willingly lead his father to the family altar daily. Perhaps this will change the morality of our youth.
1) A visitation from God.
Ac 10:3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God.
Cornelius was in prayer. He was speaking to God. During the third prayer time of the day something sudden, unexpected and strange happened. He had a vision. This means he was not dreaming … rather he had a vivid encounter … he was face to face with an angel … from God. This is important because as with today, people then had visions and saw things. Diagnosing the difference is vital for us Christians. We want to be certain that what we experience is not of the devil. This angel was from the true, living God.
Another important fact is that Cornelius “distinctly” saw an angel of God. The word “distinctly” used in this context means that what he saw was authentic. This was not an illusion or some product of superstition.
A question to hold in our minds as we progress is to ask … “Why did God send an angel to Cornelius? After all, he was only a proselyte!”
This angel … who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” He was identified and called by name. There is no question as to who the angelic visitation is too. What is pertinent is that Cornelius had been in prayer, as a man of prayer and God who hears prayers sends an angel to him. You and I will most likely never see an angel from God until we arrive in glory, but the more intelligent, earnest prayer we engage in, the closer we shall be to our Lord and the more we shall be aware of His will for us. Be cautious … whatever we put into our minds needs to be from God and He has left us with His Bible, where amongst other things we are able to diagnose truth from error.
2) The angel’s visitation was not easy for Cornelius. We read:
Ac 10:4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
In fright and surprise, he called the angel “Lord”. This is not surprising because he came from the presence of God and Cornelius being a man of prayer and in prayer could have thought the angel was God in human form. More importantly is his “What is it, Lord?” He wanted to know the reason for the angel’s presence. Perhaps when we are confronted with a Scripture that jumps out at us we need to ask … “What is it, Lord?” God might well have something important in His Word for us!
3) To explain what was happening, the angel firstly reminds Cornelius that everything he was doing before God was not done in vain. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God”. God hears prayer and God sees the assistance given to the poor believers. In Cornelius’ case, it was a “memorial offering” to God. The prayers were directed to God followed by the support of the poor because it was the right thing to do. God saw it as an offering well pleasing to Him.
This is encouraging for us to know. Often, you might think what you do spiritually and for the Lord is unseen, unheard and worthless. Cornelius was a seasoned pray-er, yet maybe this was the first time he was assured that his prayers were heard. You might pray and think God does not hear. You might help the poor and want some commendation. God hears all your prayers but He does not need to assure you that your giving is appreciated because it is!
Lord, may Cornelius’ example be a guide to practical Christianity in our lives. Amen.