Part 6 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.
In Acts 10, there’s a guy named Cornelius who is a centurion of the Italian Cohort (v.1). When I hear “Italian Cohort,” I immediately think Vito Corleone. This might not be the case with our man Cornelius, because the Bible tells us that Cornelius and his family love God. They pray together and give money to the poor.
One day an angel of God appears to him. He stares at the angel, probably wondering if it was the midnight snack speaking, and asks, “What is it, Lord?” God says that his prayers have been heard, and tells him to send servants to bring Simon Peter in Joppa to him.
The next day, as Cornelius’ servants are on their way to Peter’s house, Peter went onto the roof to pray. While he prayed, God gave him a vision. In the vision there was a vast sheet with every kind of animal on it. A voice says to Peter, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Peter sharply replied, “Lord, I don’t eat anything that is common.” And the voice again says, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Verse 16 illustrates that God is trying to get a point across: “This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”
Now Peter’s mind is scattered higgledy-piggledy over this. The ESV says he “was inwardly perplexed” (v. 17). Peter probably went into his study and opened up his journal for some introspective reflection. While Peter’s journaling, Cornelius’ servants knock on the door. They tell Peter the reason for their visit, and Peter invites them in.
After what is probably an awkward night, Peter and some friends go with the servants back to Caesarea. Cornelius is waiting for them — probably with hot dogs, steak, bacon, and milkshakes. Okay, maybe not, but you know a culture clash is about to happen. When Peter walks in, he says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation” (v. 28a). But Peter didn’t stop there. By God’s grace, sometime between verses 17 and 28, Peter realized what the vision was about. He continued, “But God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (v. 28b).
Peter and his Jewish friends, along with their new Gentile acquaintances sit down together. In verses 34-43, Peter lays out the good news of Jesus. “To him all the prophets bear witness,” he proclaimed, “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v. 43).
Peter didn’t even finish before the Holy Spirit came over the Gentiles. “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v. 44). They started speaking in tongues and were praising Jesus. The circumcised Jews are freaking out, but Peter said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47).
Peter and his friends returned to Jerusalem. It’s almost certain that in the back of his mind, Peter had worries that his Jewish brothers might want to burn him as a heretic. Nevertheless, he boldly told the church the whole story. The response was anything but negative. “And when they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’ (11:18). The Jews themselves realize that God’s bigger story is to take his kingdom to the world, not confine it to one race, one people, or one nation.
For the rest of Acts, we see the gospel of God’s grace go to Antioch, Cyprus, Iconium, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, and finally Rome. All the families of the earth are starting to experience this promised blessing that God made to Abraham. The gospel has torn down the walls of hostility and division between Jews and Gentiles. Finally, God has granted repentance that leads to life for the whole world.
To be continued…