In our study of Acts chapter ten, we look at Peter's lesson from God in race relations. Peter was a Jew and they had been God's people since the days of Abraham but God had to teach him that He loved all men.
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
In this passage we meet the commander of a group of Roman soldiers. We are told that this man and his family believed in God and that belief affected their actions and those around them noticed. It may seem odd that God would accept and even use a Roman soldier after they were the people that insulted, tortured, and crucified God's Son but that is our merciful God. There is hope for us in this as, no matter what our background, God offers the same mercy and grace to us as well.
One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, 'Cornelius!' Cornelius stared at him in fear. ' What is it, Lord?' he asked. The angel answered, 'Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.'
Here we see an example of God communicating with one of his people. Cornelius saw a vision and an angel spoke to him. Notice that, when the angel spoke to him, Cornelius immediately knew that it was from God as he called him Lord. He made himself available to listen to what God would have him to hear. That should be our reaction as well. When God speaks to you, what is your answer?
'Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.'
We see in these verses the purpose God gives angels. When God sends angels to his people, they have a message for the person or persons that they are sent to. This message almost always is to give the people what God commands of them. In this case, the angel tells Cornelius to send for Peter.
When the angel who had spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
This passage is a simple case of obedience. God sent an angel to Cornelius with instructions and Cornelius was simply obedient. That is what we are called to do as well but it takes practice. We also notice that Cornelius immediately sent the men to Joppa. It is good to remember that delayed obedience is still disobedience.
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.
This passage gives us a picture of God at work in several lives at the same time to fulfill his purpose. As God was working on Cornelius and having him send his men to Peter, God begins to prepare Peter for the event that God has already planned. This same type of situation happens all of the time. God works in people to bring them together for his purposes. We get the opportunity and the blessing of participating in his perfect plans.
He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' 'Surely not, Lord' Peter replied. 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.' The voice spoke to him a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Isn't it hard to break traditions? In this passage, God is trying to get Peter to realize that salvation was meant for everyone and not just the Jewish people. The voice reminded Peter that it is God who decides who or what is clean or unclean. Do we have some of the same kind of traditions today as they did back then? Do we understand that there is one body of Christ (church) and that all are welcome? There are many people who are racists and call themselves Christians but this passage should open their eyes.
While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.' Peter went down and said to the men, 'I'm the one you are looking for. Why have you come?'
What a great example of faith and obedience we see in this passage. We see that, even though Peter did not understand what God was showing him through the vision, he obeyed the Spirit and went down to greet the men. Most of the time we will not understand all of what God is doing but, like Peter, we need to obey when He tells us to do something and trust that God is in control of everything.
The men replied, 'We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.' Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along.
It is interesting to see what the men had to tell Peter about Cornelius. They said that he was "a righteous and God-fearing man". Peter, being a Jew, would not have normally accepted this as they believed that only Jews could be righteous. Then, to be told that an angel of God had spoken to Cornelius would have seemed to be impossible. But, Peter was still obedient. He may have still been struggling with what God was telling him but he still obeyed.
The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
What an awesome example we see here in Cornelius. Knowing that someone was coming with Word from God, he gathered his relatives and close friends so that they could hear as well. How often do we pass up the opportunity to share the gospel with our relatives and close friends? If we truly love them, how can we not do as Cornelius did and call them to gather with us to hear God's Word?
As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. 'Stand up,' he said, 'I am only a man myself.'
What an example we have here of humility. It would have been easy for Peter to be proud and to forget that it is all about Jesus and not himself. Instead, Peter reminds Cornelius that he is just a man like him. We need to keep that same attitude as we deal with others each day.
Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: 'You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?'
In this passage, we see that Peter understood the lesson that God taught him with the vision. That lesson, as he explains to the people at Cornelius' house, was that he was not to judge people by their race. The lesson is as true for us as it was for him. As Christians, we know that Christ paid the debt for all men and therefore we are all one in Christ.
Cornelius answered, 'Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, "Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea." So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.'
In this passage, Cornelius explains to Peter that God told him to send for Peter. He explains how God spoke to him and told him what to do and that Cornelius was simply obeying. We also learn from this passage that Cornelius was strong in his faith. We see that, because of his faith, Cornelius spent regular time in prayer, gave gifts to the poor, and saw God at work in his life. He trusted that God had spoken to Peter and told him to come as well as told him the message to share.
Then Peter began to speak: 'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.'
What a lesson for all mankind in this simple passage. Peter states it as clear as can be that God loves all men. How can it be that we still have racism even in the church? As Christians, we are one in Christ!
'You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.'
Now, Peter begins to teach the people that are gathered at Cornelius' house. He starts by reminding them of Jesus being baptized by John and the Spirit descending on him. He reminds them of how Jesus drove out demons and worked with the very power of God. This is a very important reminder for us today as well. It should remind us that we can have that same power that is mentioned here. There is one Spirit and that very Spirit that was given to Jesus is given to us as well when we accept the work that Jesus did on the cross.
'We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen- by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.'
In this passage, Peter is giving his credentials to the people at Cornelius' house. He is reminding them that God had a plan and that, even after the death of Jesus, God was still in control. He reminds them that God raised Jesus from the dead and that he appeared to a select group of people of whom Peter is one.
'He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.'
Now, Peter gets down to it. In the previous passage, he gives his qualifications as an apostle, now, he explains his purpose in coming to Cornelius' house. That purpose (which is the same as our purpose as Christians) is to testify about Jesus Christ. He explains that Jesus will be the judge of all mankind and that forgiveness comes through him.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
What a powerful example of why we should share the Word of God. Here we see how God can immediately take those words and change people's lives. The believers that were with Peter also got to see that God loves all men. We probably all at one time have seen someone so far from God that we did not see how they could possibly be reached. This same feeling is what the Jewish believers felt but they got to see God in action. Imagine the shock when they saw God touch the lives of these untouchable people. The same thing can and will happen to the "untouchables" in our paths.
Then Peter said, 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Here, Peter is asking a silly question and answering it at the same time. In the previous passage, the people had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. You see, the Holy Spirit is our counselor that constantly guides us to please God and it pleases God when we obey. Part of that obedience is being baptized (just like Jesus did). Peter knew that now they were going to want to please God and so they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.