Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh continued preaching the series The Early Church. Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts 10 and 11.
The beautiful story of the conversion of Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 is a miracle of pure grace. This chapter is filled with supernatural events. Heaven seems so close to the earth. This is the revelation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church. Secondly, this is a story of two great men, Peter, and Cornelius. They lived in separate, parallel social realms. In the natural, they could not have met. But the grace of God made a way where there was no way. They met and thru the Gospel, King Grace made them one. They became friends forever. Old divisions and prejudices are falling. Thru their encounter, Cornelius understanding of God became deeper and Peter’s theology got wider. Praise the Lord!
Apostle Peter was staying in the house of Simon, a Christian brother. Simon was a tanner. Tanning was the process by which animal skins were processed to become leather. Because tanning was accompanied by strong unpleasant smells and unattractive sights, the Jews considered tanning as an unclean work. Because the process needs salty water to process the skins, and for the smell to go away by the wind, most tanneries were situated along the Mediterranean Sea. Simon lived in the city of Joppa. By the way, it is from this ancient port that Jonah took a ship and went to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, the people of Nineveh. Because of his ‘dirty’ job, a man like Simon was not allowed to enter the synagogue. But as he became a Christian, the church was opened to him. To encourage him, Peter decided to live in this ‘smelly, unclean’ house, As Peter was fasting and praying, he experienced a trance. In Greek, the word ‘trance’ is the same as ‘ecstasy’. A trance is not a dream. During a trance, the person is awake, but his natural senses are suspended. His consciousness connects only with the spiritual realm. Peter saw heaven open and a sheet coming down with different animals and birds. According to the Mosaic law, some were clean, and others were unclean. A voice told him: “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!” Still having his Jewish religious prejudice, Peter refused to obey. In his self-confidence, he was trying to correct God’s command. Then the voice told him: “What God has cleansed you must not call common!” This vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was taken back to heaven. Eventually, Peter believed that God is doing something new, and he accepted to go and visit a Gentile man. This vision prepared Peter for the work of evangelism among the Gentiles, who were considered ‘common’ by the Jews. Peter forgot that one of the blessings of Abraham, the father of Israel, was that all people on earth will be blessed thru him. God told him: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).
Cornelius was the first official Gentile convert to Christianity. (The Ethiopian eunuch was considered a Jewish proselyte before he became born again). Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman army. It means that he oversaw 100 soldiers. His name means ‘horn or strength’. He was living at Caesarea, a port along the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans choose Caesarea as their capital in the area because it was free from the political religious strife in Jerusalem. It is possible that Cornelius was a freed slave who became a soldier. There was a famous Roman politician and soldier called Lucius Cornelius Sulla (108-45 BC). This was his strategy: when he conquered a territory, he killed all the rulers and the rich people. He then freed their slaves. He freed about 10,000 slaves and made them soldiers. He gave them the rights to be Roman citizens. The slaves became very grateful. In this way, the army became his strength. All these freed slaves got the name of ‘Cornelius’. It is possible that this centurion called Cornelius was once a freed slave. (It is interesting that all the centurions mentioned in the Bible are good and godly men).
Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. He was a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews” (Ac 10:2, 22). Cornelius was a Gentile who possibly got to know about Jehovah God while he stayed in Caesarea. He started reading the Old Testament and tried to serve Jehovah God. He was not a Jewish proselyte like the Ethiopian eunuch because he was not circumcised to become a Jew. He got friendly with the Jews. This was a great achievement knowing that the Jews hated the Romans. He followed the Jewish pattern to pray three times a day. He was a good moral kind religious man, but not born again. He quietly gave up the worship of the Roman idols and choose to serve the only God. He led his household of slaves and soldiers under him to do the same. An angel came to him in a vision at ‘the ninth hour’ which is 3 pm, at the time of the afternoon prayer at the Temple in Jerusalem. The angel said this: “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God… Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering… Your prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention” (Ac 10:4, NKJ, NLT, TM). The angel told him to send for a man called Peter. It is amazing to see how God knows all things on earth. He told Cornelius the name and the address where to find Peter.
Peter came and preached the Gospel to Cornelius, to his household and friends. Cornelius knew something about Jehovah. But he did not know that God is interested in him personally. This personal living faith in Jesus was activated thru the preaching of God’s Word. He and his household believed the Gospel. The Holy Spirit came on them and baptized them. They spoke in tongues and praised God. They became saved and got baptized in water. Peter and his Jewish friends stayed at the house of Cornelius few more days to have fellowship together. When Peter went back to Jerusalem, the Christian Jews were angry with Peter because he visited a Gentile, which is against the Jewish Law. When Peter explained what happened, they believed God and praised Him for granting repentance and salvation to the Gentiles too.
What are some of the lessons?
*God is sovereign in His choice of saving men. Salvation is God’s work. It is by His grace alone. Both Saul, the Jew and Cornelius, the Gentile, became saved by God’s grace alone. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom 8:29-30). The doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation says that God alone elects, choses, and calls those who He wants to save. Salvation is of God alone and by His grace alone. Man is born a sinner. There is nothing in man that impresses God to save him. Because of sin, all the works done by man cannot please God. We are not saved by anything we have done, or we desire to do for God. We are saved by God’s purpose, pleasure and will. If any sinner truly desires to know God, that desire is planted in his heart by God. God grants the gift of repentance from sin to those He wants to save. God gives the gift of faith to those who have repented of their sins. True repentance is always followed by faith in Jesus. The grace of God is sovereign. He is merciful to His elect and He hardens the others. God is under no obligation to save any man. He has the right to give or to withhold His grace according to His will and pleasure. If any sinner is saved, it is because God chose him to be saved. If any sinner is lost, it is because God wills it to be so. Many reject this doctrine, but the Word of God is clear about it (Rom 9:10-18). For us who by God’s grace are saved, we bow and worship Him!
*There is no partiality with God.
Partiality or favoritism is defined as the habit of preferring one person over another according to your own personal likings. The price for favoritism means that you discriminate and reject people you dislike, seeing them as inferior. Favoritism is sin and produces division in the church. Men tend to judge others by their outward appearance. If a man is rich and handsome, or a woman is beautiful, people tend to be attracted by them. Favoritism happens because we do not see man’s true character hidden in the heart. But God, who alone sees the heart, is never deceived by appearances. When we read that ‘there is no partiality with God’ it means that God will not ignore or bend His law or change His standard for anyone. He is faithful to His Law. God’s standard is Jesus!!!! This is good news to the believers and bad news to the unbelievers! This is God’s Word: “The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe” (Deut 10:17). “He is not partial to princes, nor does He regard the rich more than the poor; For they are all the work of His hands” (Job 34:19). “God shows personal favoritism to no man” (Gal 2:6). God does not have favorites among rich or poor, masters or slave (Eph 6:5-9; James 2:1-6)
“These things also belong to the wise: It is not good to show partiality in judgment. He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” him the people will curse; Nations will abhor him. But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (PV 24:23-25). The child of God is wise. Like God, he will not be bribed to acquit the wicked but will rebuke him. In this way the wise man is blessed.
For example, King Saul was a handsome man who looked like royalty. But God rejected him. Judas looked like a faithful disciple, but he was a traitor. We cannot see ‘the heart’ of man. Only God sees it. Therefore, we need to depend on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We do not evaluate a man based on his outward appearance or level of popularity. Like God, we should not discriminate or show partiality to men. We should not have ‘personal friends’ in the church. We must treat all people kindly as they are all God’s creation. The only people we get close to are not the ones that ‘we like’ in the natural, but the ones God recommends. To know them, you need to pray. Christian friendships should not be based on being from the same tribe, same social status, same level of wealth or education. All close friendships should be approved by the Holy Spirit. It means that you should not enter a relationship based on an impulse. You cannot ‘fall in love at first sight’. “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (PV 12:26). Many have ignored this command and got hurt in the church.
God judges all men by the amount of light they have, by the level of understanding they have about Him. God judges the Jews or the religious people according to their knowledge of God’s Word. God judges the non-religious people according to their conscience. “For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Rom 2:11-16).
Initially, Peter argues with Jesus, just like in the past. That is why the vision had to be repeated three times. Eventually, Peter obeyed and went to visit Cornelius with an open heart. When Peter saw that the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and his people, he was amazed. He said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Ac 10:34, 35).
*God always prepares His servants before He saves or uses them.
God prepared both Peter and Cornelius for their encounter. Peter still had some Jewish prejudices. A prejudice is a preconceived judgment, an unfair opinion or feelings about others made with only a partial knowledge about them. Prejudice discriminates and hurts others. God delivered Peter from his prejudice against the Gentiles. In the past, Peter surely observed that Jesus did not show favoritism among men. Even His enemies acknowledged that saying: “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth” (Lk 20:21). Peter saw Jesus rebuking the religious rulers but accepting Samaritans, prostitutes and tax collectors who believed in Him. Now, Peter must learn to behave like his Master. This was a difficult lesson for Peter. It is hard for us to understand how much the Jews disliked the non-Jews. Thru that vision of unclean animals, Jesus delivers Peter from all his prejudices against the Gentiles. By God’s law, Peter was forbidden to socialize or to do business with the Gentiles. God is showing him now that he is not under that law anymore. He should not call any man impure whom God calls pure. In Christ, we are one! “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Even before Cornelius became born again, the grace of God was working in his life preparing the way for his salvation in Christ. The prayers of Cornelius and his gifts to the poor were accepted by God. Here we see the sovereignty of God preparing the sinner for salvation. Cornelius was seeking God with all his heart. He had a limited knowledge of the true God. Cornelius believed that Jehovah God is the only true God. He also believed that God is pleased with faith and rewards them who seek Him (Heb 11:6). He expressed his faith in God thru praying like the Jews and helping the needy. He is not saved but he is seeking God. The angel acknowledged both his faith and his generosity to the poor confirming that God has accepted them as ‘a memorial’. God rewards Cornelius by giving him a greater revelation unto salvation. God sends Peter to him to preach the Gospel. Here we see that Cornelius was not a religious hypocrite or a moralist who wanted to impress people. He was no seeking for fame among the Jews. Moralists are proud, they trust their own righteousness or works, but they always reject Jesus. Cornelius was not a proud religious man. He was a genuine seeker of God. His prayers and gifts to the poor were given from his heart, willingly and faithfully. Cornelius was not saved by works. Like any sinner who became a saint, he was saved by grace and thru faith. When Peter preached Christ to him, he immediately believed the truth, and surrendered to Jesus. The Holy Spirit came on him to confirm the conversion.
Cornelius is a man awaken by the Holy Spirit. He is seeking God. He was fasting and praying regularly. The Jews prayed three times a day like Daniel (Dan 6:10). The Romans worshipped many gods. But Cornelius became a worshipper of the only God, Jehovah. He has repented from his idolatry. He is not yet saved but he is anxious for his soul. He knows he is a sinner. He wants to repent. Anxiety does not save a man but it is a sign that the soul is seeking for God, for eternal life. If any man who has no anxiety about the state of his soul, that man is going to hell. Selah! Cornelius is trying to obey the law of the Jews. He does not know that the law cannot save. The law only convicts a man of sin. The law makes man guilty. The law can only tell a man that he is lawbreaker. “Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). The law is a teacher directing the sinner to Christ. The law cannot save but trying to obey the law will produce a peculiar frustration that eventually becomes ‘a teacher, a tutor’, who directs us to Christ and His saving faith. “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore, the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 3:23-25).
God prepares the other believers. Peter came to the house of Cornelius and met a great number of people. This is the work of the Holy Spirit preparing their hearts to believe in Jesus. Peter preached Jesus. Even before he finished his sermon, the Holy Spirit came on the people. They started praying in tongues and praising God. This was like a second Pentecost but this time, it was for the Gentile. This event surprised Peter and his Jewish friends. But they could not argue with God’s work. The believers were baptized. Peter stayed in the house of Cornelius for few days explaining further who Jesus is. He later came back to Jerusalem. The Jewish believers were angry with him, who did he go to the Gentiles. But after Peter explained everything, they believed and said: “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Ac 11:18).
Repentance and faith are twins, but they are not exactly the same. Repentance from sin is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a turning around from sin to God. Repentance leads to conversion and to living faith in Christ. It is a gift ‘granted’ by God to His elect. Any sinner who does not receive this gift of repentance remains hardened in his sin. Later Paul said: “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac 20:21).
*Prayer and helping the needy are ‘a memorial before God’. God will remember you!
A memorial is an event, a celebration that keeps the memory alive after the person has died. Partaking in the Holy Communion is a Memorial to honor Jesus. Cornelius honored God by praying and caring for the poor. His good deeds were acknowledged by heaven. They are called ‘a memorial before God’. Thru the angel God said that He will answer his prayers and reward his gifts to the poor. Just the way the Holy Communion is a memorial for us to remember Jesus, so the helps to the poor are a memorial for Jesus to remember us!
One of the offerings commanded by the Law in the Old Testament was the grain offering. This is an offering without blood. It is a symbol of the life of Jesus on earth before the Cross. He was like a grain of wheat in a field of tares. Jesus is the grain crushed and made into flour. This is God’s law: “When anyone offers a grain offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. And he shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it. He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord. The rest of the grain offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons’. It is most holy of the offerings to the Lord made by fire” (Lev 2:1-3). Thru this offering God confirms that the life of Jesus as a Man on earth was totally pleasing to Him. The oil represents the anointing of the Holy Spirit on Jesus as Man on earth. The Frankincense is a symbol of worship. The offering of flour, with oil and frankincense on top, is a memorial offering made by fire. Jesus served and worshipped God the Father with all His heart, until His last breath.
In other words, Cornelius gave gifts to the poor as a memorial before God. He was telling God: remember me! Selah!
Hannah’s prayers and vow are a form of memorial for God to remember her: “And she was in bitterness of soul and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish. Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” (1 Sam 1:10, 11)
The thief was trusted in Jesus while on the Cross, prayed a memorial prayer. He had nothing to give Jesus except his heart. He rebuked the other thief who was insulting Jesus. He prayed: “Lord, remember me…” Jesus accepted this prayer and saved him (Lk 23:40-43).
This is the lesson: For Christ’ sake, the child of God prays, intercedes for others, and does good deeds to help the poor. These gifts to the poor are pleasing to God who will remember the worshipper. We too, must do the same. We help the needy for the sake of Christ, not for fame or men’s applause. We do it for the glory of God. Doing good ‘in secret’ is rewarded openly by God. “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matt 6:1-4).
*God blesses His generous children in a particular way
In both the Old and the New Testament, prayer, praising God and providing to the needy are seen as spiritual offerings. God blesses the generous worshipper with divine health, supernatural provision, strength, supernatural protection, favor with men and His intimate fellowship.
“Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed” (Ps 41:1-3). “The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself” (PV 11:25). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given” (PV 19:17).
“Continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality” (Rom 12:12,13).
“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6).
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal 6:9)
“Indeed, I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
“For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister… Therefore, by Him (Christ) let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb 6:10; 13:15, 16).
*God blesses the preaching of His Word! Peter uses the keys of the Kingdom and opens three doors for salvation!
Cornelius got converted and baptized with the Holy Spirit when Peter was preaching the Gospel. His conversion and Baptism with the Holy Spirit happened almost at the same time. This is a good lesson: If there is living faith, conversion and the baptism of the Holy Spirit can happen at the same time. There is no need to wait to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Both Peter and Cornelius learned that the Gentiles could come to Jesus directly, by faith. They do not have to pass thru the Jewish religion. The church is not ‘a branch’ of the synagogue. Jesus died, rose again, and sent the Holy Spirit to make a new creation called the church, His Bride and Body. In this new creation, both Jew and Gentile can become members, by faith in Jesus Christ.
Keys are made to open doors who are closed or to close open doors in case of danger. When Peter received the revelation from God the Father that Jesus is the Christ, he received a personal promise. Jesus told him that he will use the Keys of the Kingdom. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:18, 19). This promise applies to all believers, but Peter has the honor to be the first one to use these keys in a special way in the early church.
Before ascending to heaven, the resurrected Christ told His apostles: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Ac 1:8). According to this Word, Jesus gave Peter three keys of privilege, power, and authority, to be the first witness to open the door of salvation to the Jews (Acts 2), to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). God chose Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 1:15, 16). But in the encounter with Cornelius, we see Peter using the keys of the Kingdom to open the door to the Gentiles. In all three circumstances the Holy Spirit came to confirm the open door to heaven by baptizing the believers with the Holy Spirit.
What is a Key of God’s Kingdom? The key is God’s Word, the preaching of the Gospel. God does not use angels to preach His Word because no angel has ever been redeemed. God uses men to preach His Word because in Christ men have been saved. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:13-15). Cornelius was God’s elect, but he still needed to hear the Gospel, for the door to the Kingdom to open for him. Cornelius was not there to argue. He was there to listen. He who has the key is in charge! In Samaria, Philip was preaching God’s Word and experienced miracles. But when Peter arrived and prayed the Holy Spirit came on the people. Peter used the same Key of the Kingdom to shut the door to the false prophet Simon the sorcerer. Later, when Peter preached to Cornelius, the door opened even before the end of the sermon. Cornelius is God’s elect, but he still needs to hear the Gospel. He is a wonderful example of a sinner seeking Jesus outside the established church. The Bible says that ‘none seek after God’ (Rom 3:11). Therefore, is any man is seeking after God, it means that God is working in his heart already, He will eventually find God, as His reward (Heb 11:6). God never disappoints true seekers after Him. “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13).
Finally, we see that Peter teaches Cornelius and Cornelius teaches Peter. Meeting Cornelius changed Peter. This encounter is a milestone for Peter. He has learned a new lesson about the power of the Blood of Jesus. The uniqueness of Christianity is the grace of God. Cornelius’ faith challenges Peter and Peter grows in grace. Peter was too much a Jew. He thought that if a Gentile wants to become a Christian he should pass thru the Jewish tradition. He did not imagine that God can save a Gentile directly without passing thru the religious traditions. Observe the weakness of the law and the power of grace to make godly relationships! The law could command Peter to go and preach. But only grace could change Peter’s heart and make him friends with a former enemy. Religion can change your behavior but only the Gospel can change your heart. Grace is amazing. The Gospel does something what the law or religion cannot do. From now on, Peter and Cornelius see each other as brothers for eternity. They start to like one another. They become friends for life! Oh, the blood of Jesus! Worship the Lord!