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If you have been reading my Forbidden Bible Verses series over the past few weeks, you are acquainted with Acts 10, starring St Peter and a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, a student of Rembrandt’s, painted ‘Vision of Cornelius the Centurion’ in 1664. Eeckhout learned well from his master. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

If you are a newer subscriber, here are the posts about Cornelius and Peter:

Acts 10:1-8Cornelius, divine vision, angel, Peter, God-fearer

Acts 10:9-16Peter, divine vision, allegory, animals, Gentiles, forbidden food is now clean

Acts 10:17-23Peter, Holy Spirit, obedience, Gentiles, hospitality

Acts 10:24-29Peter, Cornelius, Jewish converts, Gentile converts

Acts 10:30-33Peter, Cornelius, Jew, Gentile, Jesus Christ

Acts 10:44-48 Peter, Cornelius, the Holy Spirit, baptism, Jew, Gentile

Acts 10 formally brought Gentiles into the Church, beginning with Cornelius, his family and friends.

John MacArthur tells us that Cornelius was a powerful man who believed in the God of Israel before he met Peter, who preached about Jesus Christ (emphases mine):

Now, Cornelius is a Gentile, a ruler, really in a real sense, because he ruled over a hundred men in the army of Rome

Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea and was part of the Italian Cohort (Acts 10:1).

It is strange that, having attended Catholic schools for nearly all of my academic career, I never heard of Cornelius — until I read the Bible in its entirety a few years ago.

I am not alone. Many Catholics have not heard of him.

Angelo Stagnaro wrote an article for the National Catholic Register in February 2017. I highly recommend reading ‘What Do We Know About St Cornelius the Centurion?’ It’s factual as well as being witty and warm.

Stagnaro opens by describing what happened at a Sons of Italy meeting he attended wherein the men and women assembled were thinking of a name for a new chapter of the organisation. The chapter had to be named after an Italian or an American with Italian ancestry.

Stagnaro offered what he thought was a brilliant suggestion:

How about St. Cornelius the Centurion?” I suggested.

“Who’s he?” came back the reply.

That’s not an uncommon question considering the Church has more than 17,000 saints and beati―no one could know all of them. So, I explained.

“St. Cornelius the Centurion is the first gentile, that is, non-Jew, who converted to Christianity. He’s Italian.”

All one-hundred people in the parish hall froze amid cannoli and snapped around to look at me. The gentleman leading the meeting had an almost panicked look on his face.

“Wait! What!?!” he demanded. 

“The first non-Jew to convert to Christianity was Italian,” I reiterated.

More accusatory silence.

“Where did you get this information?!” asked the group’s elected leader.

I was half expecting someone to yell out, “Leave the gun―take the cannolis.”

“From the Bible,” I replied, surprised at the crowd’s reaction

Stagnaro read them Acts 10 from his tablet.

The upshot is, how could so many Catholics — especially those with Italian heritage — not know of Cornelius? Stagnaro describes what it was like after the meeting ended (emphases in the original):

… twenty people came up to me after the meeting to verify what they thought I had said. 

“Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?

“I went to a Catholic school in an Italian parish and no one told me this!”

I know the feeling! I agree! How could it be?

Back to the life of Cornelius now. There was a lot of information for St Luke to put into the Book of Acts, so we do not hear any more about the centurion after Acts 10.

Wikipedia tells us (emphases mine):

Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman Empire’s Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum which was stationed in Caesarea, the capital of Roman Iudaea province, to keep the Pax Romana.

Coptics believe that Cornelius retired from the Roman army after receiving the Holy Spirit and baptism:

Afterwards, Cornelius left the military service and followed the Apostles. St. Peter then ordained him a Bishop over the city of Caesarea of Palestine. He went there and proclaimed the Name of Christ, showing them the error of worshipping idols. Their minds were illuminated with the knowledge of God and they believed in Him. He strengthened them with the signs and miracles he performed before them and he baptized them all and among them was Demetrius the Governor. Then he departed in peace and received the crown of glory of the apostles.

We have no way of verifying if Cornelius performed these miracles, although the Orthodox Church in America also believe that he left the Roman army for ministry. Their site has a longer story about the conversion of Demetrius the Governor — or prince — excerpted below:

When the Apostle Peter, together with his helpers Saints Timothy and Cornelius, was in the city of Ephesus, he learned of a particularly vigorous idol-worship in the city of Skepsis. Lots were drawn to see who would go there, and Saint Cornelius was chosen.

In the city lived a prince by the name of Demetrius, learned in the ancient Greek philosophy, hating Christianity and venerating the pagan gods, in particular Apollo and Zeus. Learning about the arrival of Saint Cornelius in the city, he immediately summoned him and asked him the reason for his coming. Saint Cornelius answered that he came to free him from the darkness of ignorance and lead him to knowledge of the True Light.

The prince, not comprehending the meaning of what was said, became angry and demanded that he answer each of his questions. When Saint Cornelius explained that he served the Lord and that the reason for his coming was to announce the Truth, the prince became enraged and demanded that Cornelius offer sacrifice to the idols.

Cornelius asked to see the idols. Upon entering the temple, Cornelius said a prayer. Then:

There was an earthquake, and the temple of Zeus and the idols situated in it were destroyed. All the populace, seeing what had happened, were terrified.

Demetrius was furious and had Cornelius imprisoned. One of Demetrius’s servants told him that his wife and child had perished under the temple rubble. Some time later, a pagan priest, Barbates, told Demetrius that his wife and child had survived and could be heard praising the Christian God.

Demetrius, relieved and happy, rushed to the prison, said that he, too, believed in the one true God and freed Cornelius, asking him to try and rescue his family from the temple ruins. Cornelius went and prayed until Demetrius’s wife and child were able to emerge from the rubble.

Demetrius asked Cornelius to baptise him, his family and his entourage:

Saint Cornelius lived for a long time in this city, converted all the pagan inhabitants to Christ … Saint Cornelius died in old age and was buried not far from the pagan temple he destroyed. 

Again, we have no way of verifying this, except that he must have done something very special, because his feast day is commemorated in the Orthodox churches (September 13), the Catholic Church (February 2) and the Episcopal Church in the United States (February 4 or 7). In fact:

When Governor’s Island, New York, was a military installation the Episcopal Church maintained a stone chapel there dedicated to him.

These are the lessons that the Episcopal Church has for Cornelius the Centurion:

The Collect: O God, by your Spirit you called Cornelius the Centurion to be the first Christian among the Gentiles; Grant to your Church such a ready will to go where you send and to do what you command, that under your guidance it may welcome all who turn to you in love and faith, and proclaim the Gospel to all nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Isaiah 56:6-8: The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,

all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant–

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.

Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,

I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

Psalm 67Deus misereatur:

1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.

3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.

5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

6 The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

7 May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

The Epistle is Acts 10:1-18, which is the account of both Cornelius’s and Peter’s visions.

The Gospel reading is Luke 13:22-29:

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, `Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, `I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, `We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, `I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.

Bill Kochman has a good article about Cornelius’s life and purpose. He points out that not many people in the Bible received visions. Therefore, God had a plan:

How often is it that people receive a heavenly visitation? The Scriptures seem to indicate that such events are reserved for those who have a very special calling from the Lord such as Moses, Gideon, Joseph and Mary, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Paul, etc. Another point worth considering is that Peter was the chief of the Apostles, yet the Lord didn’t think him too big or too busy, or too important to send to these lowly Gentile believers. In fact, the Lord specifically gave Peter his vision to convince him of the importance of his mission to Caesarea. The Lord knew that Cornelius and his family were an important part of His overall plans. Another fact to consider is that this family received the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is very important.

I hope we remember Cornelius’s faithful devotion to God, which brought him into contact with Peter.

I also hope we can draw inspiration from Cornelius’s example as a Christian.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 10:44-48

The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

—————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Cornelius relating his divine vision to Peter, explaining why he — a Gentile — sent for him.

Peter, too, had a divine vision revealing that nothing — and, by extension, no one — is unclean.

Peter took heed and, immediately afterward, met Cornelius’s men who had just arrived at the house where he was staying. He went with the men without complaint from Joppa to Caesarea.

The Holy Spirit was working wonders in Peter after that first Pentecost. Acts 2 gives us his first sermon and says:

41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

In Acts 3, Peter healed a lame beggar, who then went on to witness himself. Although Peter and John were arrested at the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 4):

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

There were thousands more, but it was not the custom in society to count women and children in those days.

These three posts explain how the Spirit transformed Peter into a great leader of the early church:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Therefore, by the time Peter met Cornelius, the resulting experience was going to be powerful. And, so it was. Last week’s post has Peter’s sermon, which is included in the Lectionary, but, unless the clergyperson preaching about it puts it into context, a lot of the power behind it is lost.

In today’s reading we have Cornelius, a faith-filled Gentile — accompanied by his household and friends — who has just learned more about God and Jesus Christ from Peter.

Peter hadn’t stopped preaching when the Holy Spirit fell upon all assembled — the converts among the Jews from Joppa as well as Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles (verse 44).

Matthew Henry has a good analysis (emphases mine below):

When the Holy Ghost fell upon them–while Peter was preaching. Thus God bore witness to what he said, and accompanied it with a divine power. Thus were the signs of an apostle wrought among them, 2 Corinthians 12:12.

Also:

Though Peter could not give the Holy Ghost, yet the Holy Ghost being given along with the word of Peter, by this it appeared he was sent of God.

Now consider that there were many witnesses in that room — Jew and Gentile.

Henry also tells us that the God follows no prescribed method:

The Holy Ghost fell upon others after they were baptized, for their confirmation; but upon these Gentiles before they were baptized: as Abraham was justified by faith, being yet in uncircumcision, to show that God is not tied to a method, nor confines himself to external signs. The Holy Ghost fell upon those that were neither circumcised nor baptized; for it is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.

The Jewish converts were ‘amazed’ to see that the Holy Spirit was ‘poured out’ on the Gentiles (verse 45):

Those of the circumcision who believed were astonished–those six that came along with Peter; it surprised them exceedingly, and perhaps gave them some uneasiness, because upon the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost, which they thought had been appropriated to their own nation. Had they understood the scriptures of the Old Testament, which pointed at this, it would not have been such an astonishment to them; but by our mistaken notions of things we create difficulties to ourselves in the methods of divine providence and grace.

John MacArthur tells us:

Well, Jesus was in the business of smashing fences, and this was one that had to go; and so as you come to the 10th chapter of the Book of Acts, the Lord adds to the church Gentiles. The pagans who were despised by the Jews and who, incidentally, despised the Jews, as well, who were thought to be unclean, in whose home Jews would never go, whose food Jews would never eat, and so forth and so on. He includes them into the church, into the one body with the Jews. Now, this is not going to be an easy thing, but our Lord had already designed to build one body. As Ephesians 2 says, “To make one new man, to join together Jew and Gentile. As Ephesians 3 said, “The mystery of the church was Jew and Gentile one in Christ.”

MacArthur says this was not going to be easy, and we will see next week that Peter caught flak for it.

Then the group spoke in tongues and extolled God (verse 46). Henry explores what this means:

They spoke with tongues which they never learned, perhaps the Hebrew, the holy tongue; as the preachers were enabled to speak the vulgar tongues, that they might communicate the doctrine of Christ to the hearers, so, probably, the hearers were immediately taught the sacred tongue, that they might examine the proofs which the preachers produced out of the Old Testament in the original. Or their being enabled to speak with tongues intimated that they were all designed for ministers, and by this first descent of the Spirit upon them were qualified to preach the gospel to others, which they did but now receive themselves. But, observe, when they spoke with tongues, they magnified God, they spoke of Christ and the benefits of redemption, which Peter had been preaching to the glory of God. Thus did they on whom the Holy Ghost first descended, Acts 2:11. Note, Whatever gift we are endued with, we ought to honour God with it, and particularly the gift of speaking, and all the improvements of it.

Then Peter asked if anyone — the Jews present — would deny these Gentiles baptism (verse 47). St Luke, the author of Acts, does not describe their reaction, but I would not be surprised if there wasn’t a moment or two of stunned silence.

Henry analyses Peter’s question:

The argument is conclusive; can we deny the sign to those who have received the thing signified? Are not those on whom God has bestowed the grace of the covenant plainly entitled to the seals of the covenant? Surely those that have received the Spirit as well as we ought to receive baptism as well as we; for it becomes us to follow God’s indications, and to take those into communion with us whom he hath taken into communion with himself. God hath promised to pour his Spirit upon the seed of the faithful, upon their offspring; and who then can forbid water, that they should not be baptized, who have received the promise of the Holy Ghost as well as we? … Thus is there one unusual step of divine grace taken after another to bring the Gentiles into the church. How well is it for us that the grace of a good God is so much more extensive than the charity of some good men!

Peter then commanded his companions from Joppa to baptise the Gentiles (verse 48). By doing so, those men became an active part of welcoming Gentiles into the Church through baptism.

Henry has more:

The apostles received the commission to go and disciple all nations by baptism. But is was to prayer and the ministry of the word that they were to give themselves. And Paul says that he was sent, not to baptize but to preach, which was the more noble and excellent work. The business of baptizing was therefore ordinarily devolved upon the inferior ministers; these acted by the orders of the apostles, who might therefore be said to do it.

Verse 48 also tells us that the Gentiles asked Peter to remain with them for a time. Cornelius, as we saw at the beginning of Acts 10 a few weeks ago, had a devout thirst to know and love God better. His friends and family gathered there with him were sober of spirit and he rightly believed they should share in that experience themselves. Once the Holy Spirit had descended and they were baptised, it follows logically that they wanted Peter to teach and preach to them about the Jesus he knew. It must have been a spirtually enriching period of time for them, one which further deepened their faith.

In closing, I wanted to look deeper into the verb ‘poured’ in verse 45. John MacArthur has a beautiful analysis of living water used in Scripture:

John chapter 7 introduces us to the Spirit of God in a very unique way; and I’m gonna take this as kind of a kickoff point; and then show you how important it is for us to have the Holy Spirit and why I believe, unequivocally with no contradiction, that we absolutely, at the moment of salvation, receive the Spirit.

John 7:37, feast of tabernacles is going on. The…the pouring of the water, symbolizing, of course, God’s sustenance of Israel in the wilderness. People have been saying Isaiah’s words about drinking at the wells of salvation. And, at that moment, when everybody’s looking at water, Jesus stands up in verse 37 and says, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” In other words, Jesus takes the whole illustration, the whole deal, and turns it to Himself and takes advantage of this. You know what He’s saying? He’s saying that if you’re thirsty, you can drink. You know that salvation could come at that day to those people if they would turn to Jesus Christ? They could’ve received the water. Remember the water that He gave the woman at the well? He said, “If you believe in Me, I’ll give you water, and you’ll never thirst again.”

And so there was the promise that they could have spiritual water, spiritual refreshment, a spring of pure cleansing water of life inside of them; but He goes a second step, 38, powerful statement. “He that believeth on Me.” Notice, what is the qualification? He that does what? Believeth on Me, no other qualification. “As the Scripture hath said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Now you have a twofold promise. Hang on here. No. 1, you’re gonna receive the water. No. 2, it’s gonna gush out of you. Not a trickle, but a what? Rivers, gushing rivers of water. Two promises. Spiritual refreshment for Me, and a flowing of the water of life that comes out of Me to the world. That’s evangelism, beloved. That’s what He’s talking about. “That the life that is in me by Christ flows out of me to reach others.” That’s the promise; but watch verse 39. Here’s the key.

But this spoke He of the Spirit, whom they that believe on Him should receive.” Future tense, it’s coming. “For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Now watch here, your thought here for a moment. This is saying this…Jesus says, “People, you can now believe, and you can drink the water of life. Someday, you will gush with the water of life to the world; but that can’t happen until the Spirit comes in.” You see? Look at it again. “This spoke He of the Spirit, whom they that believe should receive; but He was not yet given.” The principle is this. All who believe will receive the Spirit.

And, the Holy Spirit is a free gift to all who believe that Jesus is Lord and Saviour:

And where is Christ right now? He’s right there where He can be to send the Spirit, and every moment in the man…in the life of a man, that very moment that he believes, wherever that man is in the world, the Spirit of God is dispensed to that man’s heart.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our faith and to witness — as we are called, in our own ways — to the world. Without the Holy Spirit’s presence, we cannot love God, we cannot obey Him. Without the Holy Spirit, we will fall away from our Christian faith — and eternal salvation.

Next time — Acts 11:1-14

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 10:30-33

30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour,[a] and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

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Last week’s post pointed out how important it was for Peter to follow the divine vision he was given and go with Cornelius’s men — Gentiles — to the Roman centurion’s home in Caesarea. This was the fulfilment of God’s plan to open the Church to Gentiles. Christ was no longer exclusively for the Jews and those who maintained those traditions (Samaritans).

We left off last week where Peter, accompanied by Jewish converts from Joppa, arrived with Cornelius’s men in Caesarea. Peter asked Cornelius why he was summoned.

Cornelius related the vision he received (verses 30-32). I wrote about that vision a few weeks ago. The only wording difference is an updated version from Cornelius: ‘your prayer has been heard’ (verse 31).

He said that because now Peter was in front of him. Recall that when the angel appeared to Cornelius, he said (Acts 10:4): ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God’.

Matthew Henry offers insight as to how and where Cornelius might have prayed at home that afternoon (emphases mine below):

He was at the ninth hour praying in his house, not in the synagogue, but at home. I will that men pray wherever they dwell. His praying in his house intimates that it was not a secret prayer in his closet, but in a more public room of his house, with his family about him; and perhaps after prayer he retired, and had this vision. Observe, At the ninth hour of the day, three of the clock in the afternoon, most people were travelling or trading, working in the fields, visiting their friends, taking their pleasure, or taking a nap after dinner; yet then Cornelius was at his devotions, which shows how much he made religion his business; and then it was that he had this message from heaven. Those that would hear comfortably from God must be much in speaking to him.

Henry also has this to say about the angel’s appearance:

He describes the messenger that brought him this message from heaven: There stood a man before me in bright clothing, as Christ’s was when he was transfigured, and that of the two angels who appeared at Christ’s resurrection (Luke 24:4), and at his ascension (Acts 1:10), showing their relation to the world of light. [3.] He repeats the message that was sent to him (Acts 10:31,32), just as we had it, Acts 10:4-6.

As for Cornelius saying that his prayer was heard:

We are not told what his prayer was; but if this message was an answer to it, and it should seem it was, we may suppose that finding the deficiency of natural light, and that it left him at a loss how to obtain the pardon of his sin and the favour of God, he prayed that God would make some further discoveries of himself and of the way of salvation to him. “Well,” saith the angel, “send for Peter, and he shall give thee such a discovery.”

Cornelius went on to acknowledge his appreciation of Peter’s presence in his house and said that all there gathered in the presence of God awaited the Apostle’s words as the Lord commanded (verse 33). That demonstrates Cornelius’s faith and belief. The others around him would have been family members and trusted friends.

Henry has a beautiful analysis of the centurion’s words:

Observe, [1.] Their religious attendance upon the word: “We are all here present before God; we are here in a religious manner, are here as worshippers” (they thus compose themselves into a serious solemn frame of spirit): “therefore, because thou art come to us by such a warrant, on such an errand, because we have such a price in our hand as we never had before and perhaps may never have again, we are ready now at this time of worship, here in this place of worship” (though it was in a private house): “we are present, paresmen–we are at the business, and are ready to come at a call.” If we would have God’s special presence at an ordinance, we must be there with a special presence, an ordinance presence: Here I am. “We are all present, all that were invited; we, and all that belong to us; we, and all that is within us.” The whole of the man must be present; not the body here, and the heart, with the fool’s eyes, in the ends of the earth. But that which makes it indeed a religious attendance is, We are present before God. In holy ordinances we present ourselves unto the Lord, and we must be as before him, as those that see his eye upon us.

He then breaks down Cornelius’s request of Peter to speak as the Lord commanded:

Observe, First, Peter was there to preach all things that were commanded him of God; for, as he had an ample commission to preach the gospel, so he had full instructions what to preach. Secondly, They were ready to hear, not whatever he pleased to say, but what he was commanded of God to say. The truths of Christ were not communicated to the apostles to be published or stifled as they thought fit, but entrusted with them to be published to the world. “We are ready to hear all, to come at the beginning of the service and stay to the end, and be attentive all the while, else how can we hear all? We are desirous to hear all that thou art commissioned to preach, though it be ever so displeasing to flesh and blood, and ever so contrary to our former notions or present secular interests. We are ready to hear all, and therefore let nothing be kept back that is profitable for us.”

What a moment that must have been for everyone there.

John MacArthur has this take on salvation, submission and Peter’s reaction to what Cornelius said:

A man’s salvation is no accident. God orders the whole sequence, but men’s submissive will must move in. Where do you see the submission of Cornelius? In the word immediately. His will was ready. There are the first two things in salvation. Sovereign call and submissive will. Submissive will. You know what I love about that verse 33? He says, “We’re here present to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” Cornelius says, “Peter, give us the whole shot. We want it all.” Boy, have you ever had an audience like that? Man, what evangelism. I mean he’s so used to fighting it in Jerusalem. Can you imagine all those open hearts. It must’ve taken him for a moment.

What do we see then this morning? We see how God works in salvation on the one hand, but demands submission in the will of a man.

And that theme of a submissive will to the sovereign call is one that runs through the entire set of New Testament letters, whether from Peter, Paul or John.

Peter spoke. This next reading is in the Lectionary at Epiphany (verses 34-38) and, more fully, at Easter, when all of the following is read. Peter’s message remained consistent with what he preached immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost (Acts 2), although he tailored it for a Gentile audience by omitting the Old Testament prophecies in detail:

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The account of Cornelius and his household concludes next week.

Next time — Acts 10:44-48

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 10:24-29

24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

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Last week’s entry was about Peter pondering the vision he was given about all foods being clean when Cornelius’s men arrived to take him to Caesarea. Peter, a guest in Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa, provided the men with hospitality before setting off with them the next day.

I wrote last week that it was interesting that men from Joppa, converts, accompanied Peter and the Gentiles — Cornelius’s emissaries — on the journey (verse 23).

There is much significance behind that. Jews were not allowed to mix with Gentiles other than in the street or in commerce. Therefore, not only was it a big deal that Peter invited the Gentiles into Simon’s house for refreshment and sleep, but this commingling in travel would also further the mixing of the two groups.

Peter’s vision was now making sense to him, and he followed its instruction.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur point out that this division between Jew and Gentile was never part of Mosaic law.

Henry tells us more and adds that there was similar animosity on the part of Gentiles (emphases mine):

It was not made so by the law of God, but by the decree of their wise men, which they looked upon to be no less binding. They did not forbid them to converse or traffic with Gentiles in the street or shop, or upon the exchange, but to eat with them. Even in Joseph’s time, the Egyptians and Hebrews could not eat together, Genesis 43:32. The three children would not defile themselves with the king’s meat, Daniel 1:8. They might not come into the house of a Gentile, for they looked upon it to be ceremonially polluted. Thus scornfully did the Jews look upon the Gentiles, who were not behindhand with them in contempt, as appears by many passages in the Latin poets.

We see this in verse 28, when Peter refers to his vision and rightly extends it from food to people, in this case, the Gentiles. Peter used the term ‘unlawful’.

MacArthur explains ‘unlawful’ and discusses ‘anathema’:

Notice the term unlawful. “You know that it is an unlawful thing.” Athematas, it means taboo. The Old Testament ceremonial law, of course, didn’t say that, but the rabbis added that. In fact, the rabbis said that defilement by going into a Gentile home was a seven-day defilement. Now the only seven-day defilement were contact…was contact with a dead body, but the Jews believed that the Gentiles put their aborted children down the drains. That when a Gentile woman had an abortion, she put the…the dead fetus down the drain, and so any contact with a Gentile home was contact with a defilement of a dead body. Therefore, that was a seven-day defilement; and because of the seriousness of such a defilement, Jews would not enter Gentile homes.

As for the the converts accompanying Peter and the Gentiles from Joppa to Caesarea, Henry said it was common. St Luke, the author of Acts, did not say whether Peter invited them or whether they invited themselves, however, everyone had good intentions:

Either Peter desired their company, that they might be witnesses of his proceeding cautiously with reference to the Gentiles, and of the good ground on which he went, and therefore he invited them (Acts 11:12), or they offered their service to attend him, and desired they might have the honour and happiness of being his fellow travellers. This was one way in which the primitive Christians very much showed their respect to their ministers: they accompanied them in their journeys, to keep them in countenance, to be their guard, and, as there was occasion, to minister to them; with a further prospect not only of doing them service, but of being edified by their converse.

Acts 11:12 says that six men from Joppa went. Whatever the circumstances were surrounding their decision to go, MacArthur says this was highly significant for the development of the Church. MacArthur thinks that Peter probably invited the men. We see God’s grace at work in giving them good and holy desires:

In fact, they became the key to the unifying of Jew and Gentile. You say, “What are you saying that for?” Just to say this. God not only led Peter through the direct voice of that… of the vision, through the very direct communication medium, but God led Peter through Peter’s own desires and Peter’s own ideas. God didn’t say, “Peter, take along six guys.” No, He didn’t do that at all. You say “Well, Peter just wanted to take ’em along?” Yeah, but where do you think he got that desire? God gave it to him, because God knew it was crucial to have them there.

Now, believe me, people, this is a great introduction as to how God works in the life of a believer. You and I don’t hear voices anymore. If we do, you come to see me. We don’t hear voices, and we don’t see visions, and God doesn’t do great, you know, skywriting…and give us all certain visions like in the old days. But how does God lead? He leads through our desires, and here we see exactly that. And mark it, people, it was just as important to have those guys there as it was for Peter to see that vision; but one of those came by God’s direct media. The other came by His indirect media, which is as He works in our hearts by His Holy Spirit to bring what He wants to do

It was critical that those Jewish Christians go, but there wasn’t any command. That’s how God works in us today. We…we don’t have the first half anymore. We just have that part. Philippians 2:13, “For it is God…I like this…who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Don’t you like that? God is working in me to will and to do of His good pleasure

And I think that’s how He works if you’re the right vessel. Now, if your desires are all clogged up with your own self-desires, you got problems filtering it out.

Verse 24 describes the men arriving in Caesarea ‘the following day’. Most probably, everyone was on foot, including the Gentiles. We will see next week that verse 30 says Cornelius talked about having his vision four days before. He sent his men to Joppa to fetch Peter immediately afterwards. From this we can deduce that it was a two-day trip each way. Henry says:

It seems, it was above a day’s journey, nearly two, from Joppa to Cesarea; for it was the day after they set out that they entered into Cesarea (Acts 10:24), and the afternoon of that day, Acts 10:30. It is probable that they travelled on foot; the apostles generally did so.

Note also in verse 24 that Cornelius had gathered his relatives and close friends with him. He knew something spiritually life-changing was going to happen. Henry emphasises Cornelius’s generosity in wanting to share this special time with others whom he loved and trusted:

Note, We should not covet to eat our spiritual morsels alone, Job 31:17. It ought to be both given and taken as a piece of kindness and respect to our kindred and friends to invite them to join with us in religious exercises, to go with us to hear a sermon. What Cornelius ought to do he thought his kinsmen and friends ought to do too; and therefore let them come and hear it at the first hand, that it may be no surprise to them to see him change upon it.

Whether Cornelius was overly excited or completely overcome by Peter’s presence, we do not know. However, his instinct was to fall down before Peter and worship him (verse 25).

Peter immediately lifted Cornelius up and disabused him of such a notion (verse 26): ‘Stand up; I, too, am a man’.

Given Peter’s humility, then, it is amazing that the Catholic Church came up with the idea of considering him as the first pope and that he was to have successors. MacArthur goes into all of that, citing a German book on Catholic doctrine, and concludes:

But Peter wants no worship. It is wrong to worship Peter. He is no pope. He is nothing to be worshiped. He is a man. Get up off your feet. Quit kissing his toe. He’s a man…He disallowed it at the very start, and no Christian is ever to be worshipped. No saint…at all. In Acts 14:14, they started to worship Paul and Barnabas…They were all calling ’em Jupiter and Mercury and thinking they were gods, and Paul says in verse 15, “What are you doing? We are men of like passions with you. Get up. What’s all this nonsense?”

You wanna hear what Isaiah said? Isaiah 42:8, he said this, “I am the Lord. That is My name, and My glory will I not give to another.” Did you hear that? “I am the Lord. That is My name. I am the Lord. That is My name. I will not give My glory to another.”…There’s only one in the Bible who ever accepted worship. You know who that was? God. There’s only one in the New Testament who ever accepted worship. Who is that? Jesus Christ. Then who is He? God. Peter didn’t want the worship of anybody.

Peter, post-vision, willingly entered Cornelius’s house. The former observant Jew goes into a Gentile’s house. This is highly significant.

There he sees many people (verse 27) and tells them of his vision that he is not to consider anyone unclean (verse 28).

Peter added that he came willingly, ‘without objection’, and asked why he was summoned (verse 29).

Note Peter’s discernment. He asked why he should be there. He did not work on assumptions or suppositions.

The story continues next week, but the three recent posts below explain how the first Pentecost transformed Peter from being foolish and rashly spoken into a true spiritual leader and fisher of men:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Next time — Acts 10:30-33

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (also here).

Acts 10:17-23

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation,[a] for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

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Last week we read of Peter’s vision about all foods being clean. Peter was initially reluctant to accept this divine instruction, but, by the third time the vision was given to him, he complied.

I wrote recently about how the Peter of the Gospels was transformed once he received the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. He turned into a robust leader — fisher — of men in Christ’s holy name:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Peter is about to make another life-changing move, which also impacted the life of the Church. This move was divinely ordained. God gave Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, a vision and the instruction to send his men from Caesarea to Joppa in search of Peter. Then He gave Peter a vision about all food being clean.

John MacArthur says:

God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger; and we learned something else about sovereignty and salvation. God not only chooses who will be saved, but He chooses how. He chooses vehicles to use.

Now this is not apart from man’s will, but it is in conjunction with man’s will. Nevertheless, God chose Cornelius, the receiver. God chose Peter, the messenger; and this is how salvation always begins …

Cornelius, then, was prepared by God. Then God, as we saw, began the preparation of Peter. Now how you gonna get a stubborn, died-in-the-wool, traditionalistic, nationalistic Jew to open up his heart and his arms to a Gentile? That’s a tough one. Well, God had to do a lotta work on old, crusty Peter to get him to the place where he’d ever pull off this thing, and He did. He sovereignly chose Peter, first of all, because he was available.

Now we take up today’s reading. Peter was still trying to figure out the vision when Cornelius’s men arrived at the house of Simon the tanner, where Peter was staying (verse 17). He was on Simon’s roof when he received the vision and was still up there when the men enquired of Simon whether Peter was staying there (verse 18).

Peter was still thinking about the meaning of the vision when the Holy Spirit told him to get off the roof and accompany the men whom the Spirit had sent (verses 19, 20).

Matthew Henry says that we sometimes find answers to the divinely imponderable through active service to God’s people:

Those that are searching into the meaning of the words of God, and the visions of the Almighty, should not be always poring, no, nor always praying, but should sometimes look abroad, look about them, and they may meet with that which will be of use to them in their enquiries;

I especially like this (emphases mine below):

for the scripture is in the fulfilling every day.

This is exactly what happened to Peter. The Holy Spirit got him off the roof before Simon’s servants had a chance to go look for him. The vision was about to make sense.

Peter went to meet the men and, after identifying himself, asked why they were looking for him (verse 21). Remember, these men were Gentiles. One of them was a Roman soldier, which might have been a bit scary for Peter had the Spirit not explained that He had sent them.

The men explained that they came on behalf of Cornelius (verse 22). They included the description of him being a ‘God-fearing man’ and ‘well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation’. That was important. Peter deciphered that Cornelius, although not Jewish himself, believed in the God of Israel, worshipped with the Jews, associated with them and gave alms as an observant Jew would. The men also told Peter of Cornelius’s vision and the direction from ‘a holy angel’ to go in search of him to hear what he had to say.

Peter invited the men into Simon’s house as his guests before he left with them the next day for Caesarea (verse 23). Interestingly, some of the male converts from Joppa accompanied them.

Think of it — a Jew willingly inviting Gentiles into a Jewish house. This was just not done. There was plenty of antipathy and suspicion between Jew and Gentile — yes, both sides, not just from the Jews — and St Luke, the author of Acts, documents this in the early Church. We will see how this unfolded in the next few chapters.

MacArthur reminds us:

Some Jews had said the Gentiles were created by God to be the fuel for the fires of hell. This is a very narrow view. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, a funeral was held. The Gentiles, in return, looked on Jews as slave material, persecuted, oppressed, and killed them. In fact, the Gentiles commonly called Jews enemies of the human race. You can get a little bit of imagination of this kind of contempt about the Gentile to the Jew when you hear Pilate saying, almost with dripping sarcasm, “I surely am not a Jew, am I?” The disdain in his voice, and you can hear the same sting of…of Gentile hate in the voices of the owners of the slave girl, you know, who was used to make them money by sorceries. And when Paul and Silas came along and cast out the demon in Philippi, you can remember the words of those leaders. They said, “These men, being Jews, do just exceedingly trouble our city.” There was a…a great hatred among the Gentiles for the Jews, a deep disdain, as if they didn’t belong even in the framework of humanity.

However, the divine master plan was to bring Gentiles into the church — and Peter was God’s instrument in making this happen.

MacArthur says:

In Acts 10, God directs the momentous, historical event when the church extends itself from the Jews and the half-breed Samaritans to encompass Gentiles. This is the final phase in the expansion of the church.

He reminds us that our Lord knew since forever that Peter and Cornelius would be brought together for this purpose. When you think of it this way, it becomes even more exciting and amazing:

Cornelius is important because Christ chose him before the foundation of the world, and his salvation itself is important … We wanna see what God was doing in Cornelius’ life. So as we look at the history, we’re also gonna see the sequence of salvation as illustrated in the life of Cornelius, and I think what we have here is…is a very general pattern for how salvation happens in the life of anybody. So we not only see history, but so many times we know Scripture’s like a diamond. It has different facets, and every time you turn the light on, you see a new one …

Now, the first point in the sequence of salvation is sovereign call. Sovereign call. Now, this we found in verses 1 through 20, and that’s where we’ve been before, so we’ll not go all over those verses; but the first 20 verses illustrate to us sovereign call. What that means is God sovereignly is active in salvation. It all is initiated by God. It isn’t men running around saying, “Oh, I’ve found that there’s a God somewhere. I think I believe.” All on their own will, no, God is sovereign in salvation; and we saw in the first 20 verses that God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger

And from this sermon, he touched on the same subject, concluding:

God is forever and ever doing that, people. I hope you’re learning that in your life. Never to be impatient, impatient with God when He’s trying to teach you how to be obedient. And so immediately he does exactly what God told him to do, and this is exciting, because it helps us to see again that God uses human instruments. God just coulda come down and said, “Okay, Cornelius, zap, you’re saved.” But God uses human instruments. God wanted to use Peter.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 10:24-29

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 10:1-8

Peter and Cornelius

10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day[a] he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

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We are entering another exciting chapter in Acts. This book is a tremendous documentation of the explosive expansion of the early Church.

The previous chapters recounted the countless number of Jewish converts to Christianity. We also read about the growth of the Church among the Samaritans, who were half Jew, half Gentile because they intermarried with Assyrians. St Luke, the author of Acts, then documented the conversion of the Gentiles, the first of whom is Cornelius.

Cornelius was a Roman centurion of the Italian cohort — regiment, literally ‘band’ — who was stationed in Caesarea (verse 1). John MacArthur tells us:

Josephus, I think it is, tells us that there were five cohorts stationed in Caesarea, so they had a lotta Roman soldiers in that place…Make it a little study. It’s interesting. Sometime study centurions in the New Testament. You’ll find that they always appear to be good men. In fact, Jesus had some most interesting conversations with centurions.

Matthew Henry gives us more information (emphases mine below):

We are here told that he was a great man and a good man–two characters that seldom meet, but here they did; and where they do meet they put a lustre upon each other: goodness makes greatness truly valuable, and greatness makes goodness much more serviceable. 1. Cornelius was an officer of the army, Acts 10:1. He was at present quartered in Cesarea, a strong city, lately re-edified and fortified by Herod the Great, and called Cesarea in honour of Augustus Cæsar. It lay upon the sea-shore, very convenient for the keeping up of a correspondence between Rome and its conquests in those parts. The Roman governor or proconsul ordinarily resided here, Acts 23:23,24,25:6. Here there was a band, or cohort, or regiment, of the Roman army, which probably was the governor’s life-guard, and is here called the Italian band, because, that they might be the more sure of their fidelity, they were all native Romans, or Italians. Cornelius had a command in this part of the army. His name, Cornelius was much used among the Romans, among some of the most ancient and noble families. He was an officer of considerable rank and figure, a centurion. We read of one of that rank in our Saviour’s time, of whom he gave a great commendation, Matthew 8:10.

It is also interesting that the Lord chose a centurion rather than a philosopher or, as in the case of some of the Apostles, a fisherman.

Matthew Henry explains. The first sentence is well worth remembering. The last sentence is particularly important to note, as it would appear this was a sort of judgement on the Jews for rejecting Christ:

Fishermen, unlearned and ignorant men, were the first of the Jewish converts, but not so of the Gentiles; for the world shall know that the gospel has that in it which may recommend it to men of polite learning and a liberal education, as we have reason to think this centurion was. Let not soldiers and officers of the army plead that their employment frees them from the restraints which some others are under, and, giving them an opportunity of living more at large, may excuse them if they be not religious; for here was an officer of the army that embraced Christianity, and yet was neither turned out of his place nor turned himself out. And, lastly, it was a mortification to the Jews that not only the Gentiles were taken into the church, but that the first who was taken in was an officer of the Roman army, which was to them the abomination of desolation.

Verse 2 tells us that Cornelius was a ‘devout’ man. He and his household ‘feared God’. He gave alms generously and prayed ‘continually’. He was a Gentile following Jewish beliefs and customs, although not circumcision, in his case. No doubt he followed the Jewish laws about charity and adhered to their frequent prayer schedule.

MacArthur describes the three different types of Gentiles, some of whom believed in the God of Israel. It is no accident that the words ‘feared God’ are in verse 2, because the God-fearer was one of these three types:

Now, the term feared God became a technical term for Gentiles. There were three kinds of Gentiles in the mind of a Jew. One kind was just the plain, old, run-of-the-mill Gentile. The other kind, and this is getting better on the scale, the other kind was a God-fearer quote. This was a Gentile who had been sick of his own religion, the immoralities and the idolatries of his own faith, and he was sick of the whole polytheistic thing, and he had come to the conclusion in his mind that the God of Israel was the true God. He actually began to pray to that God. He perhaps become involved in the worship in certain synagogues or temple, or the temple itself. Much like, you remember, the eunuch, chapter 8, whom Philip met. But he was…he was involved in the Jewish ethic. He believed in the ethics of the Old Testament, but he had never been circumcised. He was not then a full proselyte. He was what they called a God-fearer.

The third level of Gentile would be the proselyte who had come all the way to Judaism, actually gone through the act of circumcision, and fully identified himself with Israel and was considered to be a Jew in a spiritual sense. Now you have all three. Well, Cornelius is the guy in the middle. He’s the God-fearer. He is not a full Jew, so he is to be considered a Gentile…but he did fear God. He was sick of the immorality and the emptiness of his own religion. He had attached himself to the Jewish religion. He didn’t accept the ceremonial laws, perhaps, and the circumcision, etc., but he often attended worship, no doubt. He believed in one God and in the ethics of the Old Testament.

At the ‘ninth hour of the day’, Cornelius received a vision from an angel of the Lord (verse 3). The ninth hour of the day was three o’clock in the afternoon. It is significant, because that was the time of the ritual sacrifice in the temple. Devout Jews prayed at that time of day, and, in Acts 10:30, Cornelius said that is what he was doing.

The angel addressed Cornelius by name. Henry explains:

he called him by his name, Cornelius, to intimate the particular notice God took of him.

Not surprisingly, Cornelius was terrified and asked what the matter was (verse 4). No doubt he thought the Lord was going to reprimand him in some way. Henry tells us:

The wisest and best men have been struck with fear upon the appearance of any extra-ordinary messenger from heaven; and justly, for sinful man knows that he has no reason to expect any good tidings thence. And therefore Cornelius cries, “What is it, Lord? What is the matter?” This he speaks as one afraid of something amiss, and longing to be eased of that fear, by knowing the truth; or as one desirous to know the mind of God, and ready to comply with it, as Joshua: What saith my Lord unto his servant? And Samuel: Speak, for thy servant heareth.

The angel reassures Cornelius that his prayers and alms have ascended to God. That is from the Old Testament and one of the reasons that incense was used, the fragrant smoke being a visible symbol of prayers and sacrifices rising to God.

Henry cites Leviticus:

Cornelius prayed, and gave alms, not as the Pharisees, to be seen of men, but in sincerity, as unto God; and he is here told that they were come up for a memorial before God. They were upon record in heaven, in the book of remembrance that is written there for all that fear God, and shall be remembered to his advantage: “Thy prayers shall be answered, and thine alms recompensed.” The sacrifices under the law are said to be for a memorial. See Leviticus 2:9,16,5:12,6:15. And prayers and alms are our spiritual offerings, which God is pleased to take cognizance of, and have regard to.

Some people consider themselves Christians, yet they do not pray daily. Prayer is worship. Prayer is our active acknowledgement of God the Father and God the Son. It’s essential to the Christian life. Furthermore, God hears our prayers and blesses us accordingly.

MacArthur points out:

You know, it seems to me that as I study the Bible, great things always happen when people are in prayer. God moved on Cornelius when he was in prayer. You’re gonna see in a minute that it was Peter, when he was praying, that God moved on, as well. Prayer’s a great place to be, on your knees before God, for God to speak, and here it happens.

God moves in response to prayer. You say, “What was Cornelius praying about?” I don’t know what he was praying about, but I can take a good guess. I think he was saying, “God, I wanna know more about You. I want the fullness.” He was searching for more light and God was about to invade him with light, and here came the angel, the angelic appearance.

The angel told Cornelius to send men to Joppa and to bring Peter to his house (verse 5). Note that the angel did not tell Cornelius to go himself, but to send his men instead.

Two things are striking about this verse. The first is that there was an action to be performed in obedience to the Lord. The second is that Cornelius was not to meet Peter himself in Joppa.

MacArthur takes this further. This is really important:

God not only chooses the receiver and responds to the searching heart of the receiver and prepares the receiver, but God gives the receiver the opportunity to respond actively. Now God could’ve said through this angel, “Cornelius, all you have to do is these steps. Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life or whatever?” And he could’ve gone through the Gospel, see. He could’ve simply gone right to the Gospel, said, “Cornelius, do you believe.” ________ “I believe.” “It’s over, Cornelius, great.” But, no, He didn’t do that.

No, you see, Paul said that we were sent to the world for the obedience of faith, Romans 1. You see, God always wants to tie with faith an act of obedience, because that’s what the Christian life is all about. You might as well learn it at the beginning. That’s why the Bible says, “If you believe in your heartRomans 10:9 and 10, and do what else?...confess with your mouth, the Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll be saved.” God wants some kind of act of obedience tied in with that salvation. So He gives to…to Cornelius the opportunity to be obedient; and isn’t it interesting that if I were Cornelius, here would’ve been my reaction. “Uh, can I go myself? Why do I have to send guys? That means they’ll go there, and they’ll get him, and he’ll have to come here, and that’s a lot of time. I wanna get there.”

I don’t read that in the text. Praise the Lord, he was obedient. He was believing God, and he was obedient. You say, “Well, why would God take this time?” I think there’s two reasons. No. 1, I think was the fact that God wanted Peter also to act on faith, ’cause Peter was gonna have to pack up and head for Cornelius’ house strictly on faith. I mean to have a bunch of Roman soldiers arrive at his door and say, “Come on, we’re taking you to a man who wants to see ya.” That’s a little scary. Roman soldiers.

Secondly, I think, in order to break the barriers down, that the Lord wanted Peter to lead Cornelius to Christ in Cornelius’ own house, which no Jew would ever enter, and so God had the plan laid out, and Cornelius didn’t hassle God. He believed and obeyed.

The angel told Cornelius that Peter was lodging at Simon the tanner’s house by the sea in Joppa (verse 6).

Last week’s entry explained the Jewish opprobrium towards tanners. Their profession was unclean, therefore, they, too were unclean. Tanning also smells, even today. Yet, Peter stayed with Simon for a long time, probably two years. From this, we see the inclusivity of Christianity, which the Apostle himself displayed.

MacArthur tells us why tanners lived by the sea:

Tanners had their house by the seaside, because they needed the salt water for the tanning processes.

After the angel left him, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier (verse 7). He explained the vision to them and sent them to Joppa (verse 8). Last week’s entry also discussed Joppa, more about which can be found at BiblePlaces.com.

MacArthur ties this vision and obedience together for us:

Cornelius is getting prepared. What have we seen in the preparation of the receiver over here? We’ve seen 1) God chose him. 2) God responded to his open heart. 3) God prepared the soil with the proper information and instruction. 4) God promises more light. “He shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.” 5) God asks for the obedience of faith. Meanwhile, He prepares the messenger, Peter, down in Joppa.

Peter’s preparation — also a vision — is the subject of next week’s post. Peter learned another great lesson in his life which further aided his powerful ministry.

Next time — Acts 10:9-16

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