God Saves Anyone

Acts 10

Cornelius was an Italian name.  He was a centurion of the Italian cohort.  Technically, a cohort was a tenth part of a legion.  However, when used to describe provincial and/or auxiliary troops, it described a regiment of about a thousand men.  This is most likely what is referred to in Acts 10.  In favor of this conclusion, is also the fact that the regiment or cohort had a name, “The Italian Cohort.”  It is not likely that a division of a legion would have a name, but it was common for legions to have names.

This is significant because it places Cornelius as a part of enforcing Roman rule in the region.  Herod the Great built Caesarea, and it was the administrative Center of the Judean Province of the Roman Empire. Although Cornelius was a part of enforcing Roman rule, his was a relatively subordinate role, as a centurion, Cornelius commanded 100 men.

Cornelius was a Gentile, most likely an Italian.  However, he was devout.  Acts  10:3 tells us he was praying one afternoon at about 3:00.  From this, we gather that Cornelius followed Jewish customs regarding prayer.  We are not told at what point he became convinced that the God of Israel was the true God, or by what process he became convinced.  When we meet Cornelius, he is already practicing as much of true religion as he knew.

We also know he was not acceptable to the Jews.  In verse 28 Peter says, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.”[i] Peter says, “You know.”  Cornelius knew from experience the prejudice and practice of the Jews.  He was unacceptable.

He prayed regularly and gave to the poor.  I wonder what he prayed for.  He knew the Jewish God was the true God, but he was a hated Roman, a foreign invader enforcing the occupation.  Could Cornelius ever become acceptable?

He was born of the wrong race.  He was raised in the wrong culture.  He was part of the wrong class.  He was trained in the wrong profession.  Everything was against Cornelius from the start.

This was not an issue of money or of social status.  Cornelius had a job and enough money to give to the poor.  He had family and friends.  Yet, he knew something was lacking.  He was seeking God and praying.

Have you ever been there, seeking God and praying?

Have you ever wondered if you are good enough?

Or, perhaps, you have never been good enough.  Born on the wrong side of the tracks, you have never been accepted.  Part of the wrong class, trained in the wrong profession maybe you can identify with Cornelius.

Or, maybe you know somebody like Cornelius, someone who will not come to church because they would not be acceptable.

God deals with this issue with all of us.

There are two extremes.  There are those who believe they are born in the right class, right race and right place so they are acceptable.  On the other extreme, are those who believe they are born in the wrong class, wrong race, and wrong place so they are unacceptable.

At the beginning of the Church, when Jesus established the Body that was to be His presence on Earth, He dealt with this issue.

From Moses to Jesus, the way to God was through the temple in Jerusalem.  The Jewish people had the priesthood, the Bible and the temple.  The keys were in their hands and they were not opening the doors to anybody.

They had misunderstood part of God’s purpose.

God determined it essential that worship of Him remain pure and unmixed with superstition, idols and other gods.  He is the One and Only true God.  There is no one like Him.  In other words, he is separate or different from all others.  The word for this is Holy.  We feel this holiness when we approach God and feel unworthy or unacceptable.  We instinctively know that we are not good enough.

When God was giving the law for the practice of worship and life in His presence He said, “You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy.  I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.”  (Leviticus 20:26)

In order to establish this idea of holiness or separateness in their hearts and minds, God gave various laws for purification as well as dietary restrictions.  At the time of Jesus, there were those among the Jewish people that thought they were better than others were because they kept the law.  They felt that they were born of the right race and the right class.  They felt they were acceptable.  The apostle Paul was one of these until He met Jesus on the road to Damascus and then he changed.  He wrote: 
17You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him.  18You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. (Romans 2:17-18)

This mindset was what set Cornelius apart and made him unacceptable.  It was this mindset that Jesus addressed in order for the Gospel to go to the ends of the earth as He had commanded.  He started with Peter.

Peter has a vision.  All kinds of unclean animals are on a sheet and he is commanded to kill them and eat them.  He refuses.  This happens three times.  Each time a voice comes from heaven and says, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.”  (Acts 10:15)  Verse 17 tells us that Peter was very perplexed, and wondering what the vision could mean.

He later makes the connection and shares it with Cornelius when he says, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.  But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.”  (Acts 10:28)  Peter is learning that the Gentiles are to be accepted in the Church.  This is a new idea to him as a Jew.  The dietary laws taught holiness, and had been misapplied to teach that Gentiles were unclean and impure.

This still happens today.  There are those that feel they must clean up their lives before they come to church.  Others feel like they will dirty the water if they are baptized.  Still others believe they were born in the wrong place and everything has been against them from the start.

The Gospel is for everyone.  Peter preaches the Gospel in very few words and says:
He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.  He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.  (Acts 10:42-43)

Let’s repeat that last line, “Everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

The Gospel is for everyone.

Besides the vision and teaching of Peter, the Lord confirms this fact by a miracle.  Verses 44 and following give an account of the Holy Spirit falling on all who were listening to the message.

Peter started his message with, “You know what happened . . .” They were familiar with all the events surrounding the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus.  They just needed to make the connection.  As soon as they made the connection, God showed His approval by giving the Holy Spirit.

This proved to be a turning point in the Church.

In chapter 11 of Acts, the apostles and other believers confront Peter.  How could Peter go into the home of Gentiles?  How could He preach to them and even eat with them?  When Peter defended himself against these charges, he told them exactly what happened.  And, the deciding argument was since God gave the Holy Spirit, who was Peter to stand in the way?

From that day to this, the ministry of the Church continues to be primarily to us Gentiles.  God has not given up on the Jews.  However, He has given us Gentiles access to all the promises and covenants.  The Apostle Paul said, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”[ii]  (Romans 10:12, NIV) 

We make distinctions.  God says He does not.

The truth is not one of us is worthy, or acceptable.  Jesus makes us right with God.  When we believe on His name, our sins are forgiven and we are made acceptable.  It does not matter if you are male or female, Greek, Roman, Italian, Chinese, African, Jew or Gentile.  It makes no difference, none.

He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.  He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.  (Acts 10:42-43)

Come, just as you are.  God accepts you.  Based completely on what Jesus has done.  Come and see if He does not give you the gift of His Holy Spirit.

[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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