By Dr. Mark Scott
Reading the book of Acts is like throwing a pebble in a pool of water and watching the ripple effect. The circles keep getting wider. When Peter preached to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) that was the first ripple. When Peter confirmed Philip’s ministry in Samaria (Acts 8) that was the second ripple. Here Peter preached to the Gentiles, which is a third ripple. Clearly God’s aim to save all the nations of the world (Genesis 12:1-3) was coming to fulfillment.
Acts 10:1–11:18 is one literary unit. It concerns the gospel going to the household of Cornelius. The backdrop to the lesson is Acts 10:1-23. God was so interested in getting the gospel to the Gentile world that he used visions to get the job done. First Cornelius had a vision (vv. 1-8). Second, Peter had a vision (vv. 9-16). Finally both visions were brought together by Cornelius’s soldiers meeting Peter and summoning him to Cornelius’s house (vv. 17-23).
All Are Equal
The trip from Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa to Cornelius’s house in Caesarea is about 30 miles. The Holy Spirit must have quickened the steps of all involved to make the trip in such a short time. The God-fearer, Cornelius, showed his genuine character (v. 2) by his reverence (literally “worship”) of Peter. But Peter gave Cornelius a sanity check by reminding him that he was just a man like Cornelius (see also Acts 14:11-15; Revelation 19:10; 22:8, 9).
Cornelius could not have made the reception more welcoming. He had called together his relatives (similar race) and close friends (those he loved). Cornelius explained his vision and the command of the angel to send for Peter. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us. The audience is every preacher’s dream. Peter could have sneezed and this group would have decided to follow Jesus.
Everything was coming together for Peter. His own vision of the animals let down on the sheet from Heaven (Acts 10:10-16) now made sense. Peter knew the Levitical dietary code (Leviticus 11). He knew what the Old Testament taught about intimate associations with Gentiles. He had been proud that he had not broken the Law.
But Peter was a Christ follower now, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was to operate with a new paradigm that treated all people (Jew or Gentile) as equal in the sight of God. The Gospels record that in the ministry of Jesus, the old distinctions were being reshaped (Mark 7:19). No one was impure (common) or unclean. Peter claimed that he came without raising any objection. He must have said this tongue in cheek, and Luke must have laughed when he wrote it. Remember that he needed the vision from Heaven three times.
None Are Favorites
Peter seized the moment and began to preach: I now realize means “to grasp or receive with the mind.” It took a bit, but Peter finally saw this truth with 20/20 vision. Here it is: God does not show favoritism (“does not regard the face”). This is an outstanding biblical truth which sets Christianity apart from other religions. No race is given priority. No place is better than another. No face is preferred. God accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right (works righteousness or justice). The ground is level at the cross. God plays no favorites from the king to the peasant, from the rich to the poor, and from the wise to the foolish.
But Peter did not leave this message with some sort of societal kindness or humanistic do-goodism. He grounded this lack of favoritism in the message of the gospel (Acts 10:36-38). This message of equality was part of the promise to Israel, which was to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). This message of no partiality was connected to the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6; Ephesians 2:14), who is Lord of all. This message of liberty for all was made tangible in Jesus’ earthly three-year ministry to people. How Jesus treated people and how Jesus helped people became the new yardstick of Christian ethics.
Peter bracketed the ministry of Jesus from the time of the preaching of John the Baptist to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 10:37-41). Peter went on to say that Jesus commissioned the apostles to preach this message of forgiveness to everyone (vv. 42, 43). The ripple effect had widened to the Gentile Pentecost.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.