Acts chapter 10 opens with a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, living in Caesarea, a wealthy town about 30 miles from Joppa and 65 miles from Jerusalem.
A Centurion commanded a unit of up to 100 men. All the centurions described in the Bible consistently had noble character traits, hand-picked from the military, adding stability to the entire Roman system. The Italian Cohort numbered about 600 men and was part of the Roman legion of 6,000 soldiers in Caesarea, the Headquarters for the Roman occupation in Palestine. (For a great description of Caesarea follow this link)
Cornelius was a good man and a God-fearing man, meaning he was deeply religious, but not a Jewish proselyte. Cornelius was truly seeking God, and God has promised if you truly seek God the Lord will make sure you find God. While Cornelius was praying, God gave him a vision to send for the apostle Peter.
Cornelius immediately believed God, trusted God and obeyed God’s word to him.
In fact, Cornelius was so confident in God that he gathered all his friends and family to wait for Peter.
Meanwhile, Peter was staying with Simon the Tanner, seeking God’s will in his life, seeking that next step. Tanners were despised by the Jews because they treated the skins of dead animals, rendering them constantly unclean according to Levitical law. Peter’s willingness to stay with this man showed already he was willing to overcome his prejudices for the sake of Christ.
Peter wasn’t just passively waiting, but actively praying, in the cool breeze of the tanner’s flat roof. While he was praying, he got hungry, and God used that moment to teach Peter something significant about the gospel.
God showed Peter a tablecloth with all kinds of clean and unclean animals which God told Peter to eat. Peter was aghast and refused.
It was immoral, it was anti-scriptural, he couldn’t imagine it. He was, in fact, offended by God’s suggestion.
But Jesus had already provided the foundation for understanding this vision when He taught the disciples that it isn’t what a person eats that makes them unclean, it is what comes out of a person’s heart.
Peter was a Christian, but he was still looking at things as though he were an Hebrew Testament Jew. You and I can often be the same, we may be born again, but we still react to things the way we used to, our whole way of thinking isn’t magically changed in an instant, all those things we learned growing up, from our family, and from school, and from the culture, has shaped our world view, formed our motivations, perspective, what we deeply believe about who we are, and how the world works.
That’s the old mindset that God is in the process of transforming. Often, it seems, the way God does that is to shake things up with the unexpected, the unanticipated. Depending on how entrenched you and I are in the way we view something, will determine how willing we are to even entertain the new ways, new perspectives, and new challenges God presents.
God wanted Peter to understand something new about the law. All laws have been fulfilled by Jesus, the levitical laws completed in Jesus’ cross and resurrection, the civil laws abrogated by Jesus’ reign, God’s moral law now reimaged as love and light.
How possible is it that God is asking you to do something in your life that you’ve never done before, that you’re not sure about? It might be some new act of kindness, or reaching out to someone you don’t know, or going to a group of people you don’t usually associate with, or getting involved in a project you otherwise wouldn’t pay attention to.
Maybe God is asking you, like Peter, to reassess something, or someone, you have been used to judging and condemning.
Peter was committed to doing whatever God wanted him to do. That seems to be a prerequisite for receiving God’s direction and guidance. I don’t think it’s that God keeps God’s guidance to to God’s own self. I think it’s that we make every effort to look the other way, plug our ears up with our fingers, sing, “LA LA LA” at the top of our lungs and run in the opposite direction.
It took three times for Peter to get comfortable with what God was saying, and when he heard a knock on the door downstairs, he understood the principle of cleanness that God had showed him in the vision.
Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to [God].”Peter, quoted in Acts 10:34-35
Just try to imagine the transcendent joy these people experienced, hearing the word “anyone,” from the lips of a Jew, meaning even them. They had been used to being second class with the Jews, even though they were devoted to God. Now this apostle of Jesus was telling them the beautiful message of love and healing, of peace and restoration is for all people. Peter gave that beautiful message of God’s grace through Jesus to Cornelius and all the non-Jewish people Cornelius had gathered together in his home.
And then, something incredible happened. Something that blew Peter’s socks off, as well as the other Jewish evangelizers who had come with him.
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.Acts 10:44-45
People hadn’t always spoken in tongues, so far, in Luke’s record. Not everyone who receives the Holy Spirit speaks in tongues. Many who had received the Spirit in Jerusalem and Samaria proclaimed Jesus’ glory in their own language.
But for the six other Jewish Christians Peter had brought with him, this event held certain significance. There could be no question these Gentiles had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. It was the same prophetic miracle that had happened on the day of Pentecost.
God was expanding God’s church quickly and desired to show immediately that conversion had taken place from mortality to immortality. Sometimes a person comes gradually to understand the radical, irrevocable change that has occurred inside them. But, Jesus had prophesied over His followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And so, there were four specific times in the story of Acts when God wanted there to be immediate recognition of regeneration:
1) Acts 2, Pentecost – Authenticate Jesus’ promise He would come back in the Spirit to indwell His believers.
2) Acts 8 – Affirm Jesus’ prophetic command for the gospel to take root first in Jerusalem (Acts 2), then in Judea (as thousands were added) and now to Samaria.
3) Acts 10 – Convince Christian Jews the Spirit would come to indwell Gentiles, too (thus launching the gospel’s spread to the “ends of the earth”).
4) Acts 19 – Confirm the divine power and supernatural work of the whole gospel to seekers after Jesus who did not know about the Holy Spirit.
Cornelius’ story also showed that water baptism is the outward rite that reveals an inward reality, the Holy Spirit bringing that person to new life.
Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So, he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.Acts 10:47-48
Roman Centurion | I, Luc Viatour [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]