Peter’s Vision, a Roman Centurion, and Preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 10)

    Vs 1-2 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.

Cornelius, as a centurion in the Italian Regiment, would have been among the most loyal of the Roman army and also among the most well-paid. The Roman government and army is the hated enemy of the Jews. Yet here we see Cornelius as a man that loves and fears God. He is generous with his wealth and faithful in prayer. Cornelius is a striking exception to the common Roman soldier.

    Vs 3-6 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.”

What is Cornelius doing when he suddenly sees this vision? As we learn further down in vs 30, he’s fasting and praying. “I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house.” He sees a vision of an angel who tells Cornelius that his “prayers and… alms have come up for a memorial before God.” This shows us that God sees our prayers and our financial gifts as a sacrifice to Him. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in his letter to Philippi:

    “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”
    ~ Philippians 4:17-18

You see, God desires our gifts and offerings but they can take many forms: gifts of money, prayers, worship and praise, our time, our energy, and so much more. What God doesn’t need from man any longer is a blood sacrifice for sin. Jesus already paid that price and gave that sacrifice on our behalf.

The author of the book of Hebrews discusses this as well:

    For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
    ~Hebrews 13:11-16

From this we can clearly see that the centurion is a man that loves God, and God recognizes his sacrifices, just as God sees our gifts and offerings.

    Vs 7-16 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa. The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

So while Cornelius sends some of his men to Joppa, Peter is praying on a rooftop. Peter is hungry and thinking about food while he’s in prayer (I’ve done that)! In his prayer he sees this vision in which God tells him that they (Jews) can now eat animals that were previously directed to be “unclean”. But God instructs Peter in a way that doesn’t shows us He was talking about more than unclean animals: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

God is also talking about the Jews fellowship with Gentiles.

    But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised {Gentiles or unclean} had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised {Jews or clean} was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
    ~Galatians 2:7-9

How many times have I avoided ministering to someone because they smelled bad? Or because they were dirty, or looked like they may be homeless, or they didn’t fit into my comfort zone? So many times! Paul tells us here in Galatians that he was specifically directed by the Holy Spirit to preach to the unclean (or uncircumcised). He was to teach, fellowship, and get close to the people the Jews considered dirty!

    But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
    ~Romans 3:21-24

Every single one of us is a dirty sinner in need of God’s grace! “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

    Vs 17-27 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?” And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.”
    Then he invited them in and lodged them.

On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together.

So while Peter is thinking about all of this, Cornelius’ men come to fetch Peter and bring him back to Caesarea. They have each had a vision and the two visions together are aligned.

It always amazes me when God’s Holy Spirit directs two different people on the same issue in order to accomplish His will. The Lord has done that with my wife and I countless times. God has recently given direction in my life that aligns with the prayers of another brother who has been praying about the issue for over a year – he and I are now of the same mind without either of us really communicating about it.

I would compare this to working on a jigsaw puzzle and that moment of joy you have when you finally see two pieces fitting together.

    Vs 28-33 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

    So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you. So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

The Centurion obeyed God and called Peter to his home. Now we get to hear Peter’s sermon!

    Vs 34-43 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

God has provided salvation to anyone who wants it, Jesus is Lord of all. “He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” Not only does God desire that we fellowship with each other no matter what race, creed, sin, or social status we are or have; but Jesus came to provide salvation equally to anyone who believes.

    We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
    ~ 1 John 4:19-21

God wants us to love each other as He loved us. That can be so hard to do. What if the other person is mean or unloveable? God Word doesn’t change on the issue: “he who loves God must love his brother also”. Loving the other person doesn’t mean “not hating them”. Loving them means a tangible action. We love someone else by actually doing something that shows them love. It’s one of those offerings of sacrifice we talked about. Perhaps it’s our time that we share with them, or our money we donate, or our food we leave at the food bank. It can also be serving them at the homeless shelter.

    But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5:8

Jesus took action. He demonstrated His love for us. He showed us love by doing it. That’s what He calls us to do.

Christ showed love daily in His miracles, He dined with dirty sinners, He allowed the sinner Mary to wash His feet with her hair, and He died for every one of us.

    Vs 44-48 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.

Just like Jesus, Peter took action. Peter demonstrated his love for Gentiles. Peter showed us love by doing it. Peter followed the example set by Jesus. That’s what God calls us to do.

Related articles:

An Avenger Who Delights In Mercy

Where You Go, I Will Go

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2 thoughts on “Peter’s Vision, a Roman Centurion, and Preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 10)

  1. Pingback: Consecrate yourself | daily meditation

  2. Pingback: The Jerusalem Council and Gentile Believers (Acts 15) | Sunday School Bible Study

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