Years ago Dr. Marshall Leggett was preaching on Acts 10, 11 at Broadway Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and his opening line of the message was, “That door just keeps getting wider.” One cannot read the Book of Acts without being impressed with the wide embrace of the inclusiveness of God. Acts is the story of an unhindered church that includes all people—Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). God includes all. Luke’s story of Cornelius (a Roman centurion) celebrates that truth.
Getting Peter on Board
Acts 10:28, 29
Christian maturity does not occur instantaneously. Peter struggled with God’s inclusiveness (Acts 10:14; Galatians 2:11-14). Old habits die hard. But by the third time (Peter seems to like the number three; see John 13:38; 21:17) that the vision occurred (Acts 10:16), Peter was beginning to understand the wideness in God’s mercy. Once inside Cornelius’s house, Peter affirmed his old prejudice (it is not lawful for a Jew to associate—be joined to—with a Gentile) but also affirmed his new perspective (God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean). Peter realized that his vision was not about the Levitical dietary code. It was about people. One has to laugh when reading Acts 10:29. “Came without raising objection?” Luke must have grinned when he wrote that.
Bringing in Cornelius
Almost without exception (though see Acts 27:11) centurions get good press in the Bible, and Cornelius is no exception. He rehearsed in Peter’s hearing the details of Acts 10:1-8. Cornelius testified as to the day and time of the angelic visitation. He quoted the affirmation that the angel delivered from God. He gave context for his request for Peter to come from a tanner’s house in Joppa (think back to the prejudicial prophet Jonah who boarded a ship at Joppa) to Caesarea. “We are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” It does not get any better than that for a preacher.
Tying the Gospel to the Event
This is not just a nice story of people willing to lay down their prejudices and live in harmony. This story is really at the heart of the gospel. Peter ties the person and work of Christ to what is happening in Cornelius’s house. Peter’s lead line is Acts 10:34. God does not play favorites (literally “does not regard the face of a person”). God accepts (welcomes or receives) people from every nation (ethnic group) who believe in the finished work of Christ and strive to live out the righteousness that comes from that.
In Acts 10:36 Peter launched into his “kerugma” (Christian message). In many ways, this paragraph is a summary of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The gospel story contains many parts: God sent Jesus to fulfill his promise to Israel. Jesus announced (evangelized) peace and became peace to make people one (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus’ formal beginning to his ministry started with his baptism and continued through his three-year ministry of doing good and healing people (1 John 3:8). Jesus’ ministry was conducted publicly. People witnessed his murder as well as God’s resurrection of him on the third day. Peter confirmed that Jesus had commissioned the apostles to preach that he was the coming judge at the end of time. Therefore, forgiveness is offered to everyone who believes in him. Jesus is the exclusive Savior from the inclusive God. The true nature of the gospel is inextricably linked to this event in Cornelius’s house.
Affirming with the Power of the Spirit
The God of patience was very impatient in Caesarea. Before Peter could finish his remarks, God acted dramatically from Heaven. The Holy Spirit came on the hearers. The Holy Spirit was poured out on this Gentile household as he had been poured out on the day the church began (Acts 2:1-4). The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were astonished (literally “to stand outside of oneself”). They were essentially witnessing the Gentile Pentecost. “Came on,” “poured out,” and “gift of” were synonymous expressions of the baptism of the Spirit. The evidence for such was speaking in tongues (now just the second time that gift was activated in Acts).
If this event was parallel to Pentecost, then water baptism logically followed. Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of (literally “hinder”) water baptism. Cornelius’ household was baptized, and Peter stayed for a few days. Cornelius may have said, “I cannot believe I get in.” Peter may have said, “Pass the bacon.”
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.