Grace Bible Church
The Conversion of the Gentiles – Acts 10
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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 5, 2006
The Conversion of the Gentiles
This morning we come to one of the great transitions in the book of Acts. To this point the gospel has gone to Jews, Samaritans (who are partially Jewish), and to a few Gentiles who were proselytes. Acts 10 tells the story of the Gospel finally going to Gentiles who were “God fearers”, but not proselytes to Judaism. Acts 11 will be the confirmation that God had “granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” This chapter is important to me personally because it marks the change that opened the door for my ancestors and me to become Christians. Acts 10 is the story of how God prepared the way for this great door to be opened as he gave visions to a Gentile soldier and then to the Apostle Peter which brought them together so that the Gentiles could hear the gospel from Peter.
The Vision of Cornelius (1-8)
Acts 10:1 (NASB) Now [there was] a certain man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, 2 a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the [Jewish] people, and prayed to God continually. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had [just] come in to him, and said to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And fixing his gaze upon him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 “And now dispatch [some] men to Joppa, and send for a man [named] Simon, who is also called Peter; 6 he is staying with a certain tanner [named] Simon, whose house is by the sea.” 7 And when the angel who was speaking to him had departed, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were in constant attendance upon him, 8 and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Caesarea is a coastal city about 33 miles / 53 km north of Joppa. It was the capital of the Roman province of Judea & the location of the residence of its procurator (governor). The city was originally known as Strato’s Tower. Caesar Augustus had given the city to Herod the Great who in turn renamed the city after Caesar. Herod then spent 12 years rebuilding it into a showcase for the East including a theater, amphitheater, public buildings, a racecourse, palace, aqueduct and magnificent harbor. There were 3,000 troop stationed there including the Italian Regiment
Among those soldiers stationed there was Cornelius. He was a Centurion, a commander of 100 men. Roman historian Polybius described Centurions as “not so much venturesome daredevils as natural leaders of a stead and sedate spirit, not so much men who will initiate attacks and open battle as men who will hold their ground when worsted and hard pressed and be ready to die at their posts.” We would say they were men of courage and commitment.
Our text tells us that Cornelius was also a “devout man” and “one who feared God.” The outward evidence of his heart seeking after God was seen in his leading his household, giving many alms to the Jews, and in praying to God continually. As a “God fearer” Cornelius would have been someone that kept the Sabbath, attended the Synagogue and followed Jewish dietary laws. He was not circumcised nor had he undergone Jewish proselyte baptism. He would have been considered a “Gentile at the gate,” but not a proselyte to Judaism. He is a good man by human standards, but he is not yet saved, for good works cannot save the individual for two reasons. First, there are no human works that meet God’s standards of perfection, for all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags before Him (Isa. 64:6). Second, no work of human righteousness could compensate for and pay the penalty of human sin. Cornelius is not yet saved, but he is ready to hear the gospel.
Verse 3 tells us that about the 9th hour, which is 3 p.m., God gave Cornelius a vision in which an angel of God came to him and told him that his prayers and alms ascended to heaven as a memorial before God. His prayers were being answered. The angel gives instructions for Cornelius to send for Simon Peter in Joppa. He obeys the instructions and sends two of his servants along with one of his “devout” soldiers. That description of the soldier indicates that Cornelius had affected his soldiers by his own example of godliness and devotion. In Acts 11:14 we find out that the Angel had also told him, “and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” Cornelius is not saved yet, but he will find out from Peter how he and his household could be saved.
While these two servants and the soldier were making the 33 mile (53 Km) trip from Caesarea to Joppa, the Lord is also preparing Peter. Depending on how fast they could walk, it would have taken between 10-15 hours to make the journey. It would also have taken time for the group to assemble, so they make the trip over two days.
The Vision of Peter (9-16)
Acts 10:9 (NASB) And on the next day, as they were on their way, and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he ^beheld the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all [kinds of] four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 And again a voice [came] to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no [longer] consider unholy.” 16 And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
The next day while the men are coming, Peter goes up on the housetop to pray about the sixth hour, which is noon. While it would be strange for any of us to go up to our housetops to pray, they roofs of the houses in Israel were often flat and used as living space. That is still common to this day in that land. Verse 10 tell us that Peter was praying while lunch was being prepared, and being hungry he fell into a trance. Not surprisingly, he dreams about food, but the vision is strange. He sees all sorts of animals, crawling creatures and birds lowered on a great sheet from heaven. He is then command to arise, kill and eat. Peter, being a devout Jew, objects strongly to this command explaining that he has never eaten anything unholy or unclean. However, the voice from heaven explained that “what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” followed by the command again for him to Arise, kill and eat. This entire vision was repeated to Peter three times (vs. 16). Peter understood that this was a very important message, but he was not sure what to make of it.
Peter’s resistance to the command to eat unclean animals would have been in the same spirit that Ezekiel also resisted similar instruction in Ezekiel 4:14. He did not want to violate the Old Testament ceremonial laws and make himself unclean. Note that the Lord had not made any statement about the condition of the animals, but Peter considers them all unclean, for the clean ones would have been contaminated by touching the unclean ones. This left Peter quite confused as verse 17 explains.
17 Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; 18 and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. 19 And while Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 “But arise, go downstairs, and accompany them without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself.”
The timing of this could only have been orchestrated by the Lord. It is no coincidence that while Peter is still confused and trying to figure out what the vision meant (vs. 17), the men from Caesarea arrive at Simon the Tanner’s house. Then while they are asking for Simon at the door (vs. 19,20), the Spirit directs Peter to go meet these three men and to go with them without misgivings or hesitancy (
diakrinw / diakrinô) for God had sent them Himself.
Peter Goes to Caesarea (23-33)
Acts 10:23 (NASB) And so he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he arose and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day he entered Caesarea.
These verses show another step in the steady progress Peter has been making in moving out of his prejudice. He had been present at the conversion of the Samaritans and learned to accept Samaritan believers as brothers in the Lord. He had been traveling through land where there where Gentiles, but he had not yet taken the gospel to them. He was currently staying with a tanner, and “godly” Jews usually shunned such tradesmen. Peter had overcome that prejudice.
This next step in accepting Gentiles mentioned in verse 23 would have been very difficult. Strict Jews would have nothing to do with Gentiles. They would neither host nor be hosted by Gentiles. They would not eat food prepared by Gentiles. Cooking utensils purchased from a Gentile had to be purified before they could be used by a Jew. Jews that traveled through Gentile land would shake the dust off their shoes as they re-entered Israel so as to remove the contamination and not bring it upon Israel’s soil.
Peter was being moved out of his prejudice by his obedience to the Lord’s command both in detail and in spirit. Peter invited these Gentiles in and gave them lodging (vs. 23). The next day Peter went with them on the journey to Caesarea (vs 23). In 11:12 we find out that there were six men that made up the additional brethren from Joppa that also went with them. It is a two day journey, so they arrive the day following (vs. 24).
Verse 24 continues with what happened when Peter arrived. ”
Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 And when it came about that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped [him.] 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am [just] a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he entered, and found many people assembled. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and [yet] God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. 29 “That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. And so I ask for what reason you have sent for me.” 30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, 31 and he ^said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 ‘Send therefore to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon [the] tanner by the sea.’ 33 “And so I sent to you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
When Peter arrives he finds that Cornelius has gathered together his relatives and close friends. Cornelius is not a saved man yet, and he does something common to pagans. He prostrates himself before Peter. It is an act of reverence or homage. For Cornelius this is a way to show respect to Peter, but it is also an act of worship (
proskunew proskuneô). Peter quickly corrects him that such reverence / worship is not proper for he also is only a man and worship is to be reserved for God alone.
There are many people are there, and Peter begins by explaining that God had changed his understanding of what was holy and what was not so that he was able to overcome the prejudicious traditions of Judaism (not the Mosaic law) that would have previously prevented him from coming and associating with Gentiles. This is important for this explanation by Peter would not only show his humility, but also help establish his trustworthiness. If Peter he had not given an explanation then he could have been held suspect as someone who was not devout, for the Gentiles were well aware of Jewish custom towards them. Peter then asked the reason they had sent for him
Cornelius then explained the vision that he had four days earlier and then asked Peter to present to them what God had commanded. Note that they recognize that they are “present before God to hear.” They were not there out of curiosity, but out of a deep desire to know God and His will. This was a serious occasion for them. Note as well that they wanted to know what God had “commanded” Peter to tell them. Commanded is
prostassw prostassô. It is a term used for military commands. It is a word that recognizes the authority and necessity of obedience. Cornelius is ready for the Lord’s orders which he would then obey.
Peter Preaches to the Gentiles (34-43)
34 And opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand [now] that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him. 36 “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)– 37 you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. 38 “[You know of] Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and [how] He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. 39 “And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 “God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, [that is,] to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
Peter first admits that he now understood that God was interested in the Gentiles as well as the Jews. He should have known that from OT scriptures (Isa 11:10; 49:6) as well as from what Jesus’ taught (Mt. 10:18), but prejudice is hard to overcome. That is often true even for Christians, and yet, it needs to be overcome. We overcome prejudice as we understand better the character of God who does not show partiality and the humble ourselves before Him. Partiality is
Note that ”
every nation the man who fears Him and does is what is right, is welcome to Him” is not a works salvation idea. Welcome is not salvation, but acceptable to God. It is dektoV / dektos which means “marked by a favorable manifestation of the divine pleasure.” The word is used that way in 2 Cor. 6:2. It is not that they are saved, but that they are suitable candidates for salvation, that is, they are spiritually prepared to receive salvation (cf. Matt. 5:4f; Acts 17:27; Heb. 11:6).
Peter then preaches Christ to them clearly identifying Him as Jesus of Nazareth and pointing out that they were already aware of His life and character. His good works, healings and casting out of demons clearly demonstrated that God was with Jesus. Peter then pointed out that he, and since he uses the term “we,” apparently also some of the six men with him were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Peter also points out that Jesus had ordered him to proclaim Jesus. Proclaim is
paraggellw / paraggellô which is a command to transmit a message. It was also used of military orders, so Cornelius would have quickly picked that up. Peter was also to “solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead,” and that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies that “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” This is the heart of the Gospel message. Belief in the true Jesus of the Scriptures, results in forgiveness of sin. Remember that belief equals trust equals faith. This is not intellectual assent, but justification by Faith as explained in Romans and other Scriptures.
Conversion of the Gentiles (44-48)
The Coming of the Holy Spirit (44-46)
Acts 10:44 (NASB) While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.
The Holy Spirit “falls” upon them while Peter is still speaking. They believe what Peter says and the Holy Spirit comes upon them prior to baptism and prior to laying on of hands by anyone. The Holy Spirit is not controlled by man! There is no delay in the Spirit coming here as with the Samaritans, for Peter and several of the brethren from Joppa are already present as witnesses. These witnesses will be needed in order to convince the Jews in Jerusalem of what Peter had come to believe by the vision the Lord had given to him and by his eyewitness experience. The gospel and the New Covenant was now available to the Gentiles.
This is only the second time that “speaking in tongues” is clearly manifested” in Acts. It is again fulfilling its purpose and is used of the Lord to convince Peter of the genuineness of the salvation that had come upon these Gentiles. In addition, this text also shows that salvation comes prior to baptism! It is the Spirit that saves and it is the Spirit that is the evidence of salvation. Baptizing an unregenerate man only gets you a wet sinner, but a sinner that has the Holy Spirit come upon him is regenerated to new life in Christ.
The Baptism of the Believers (47,48)
Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we [did,] can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.
This is the other side of the issue of baptism. It is not something to be put off by those who profess to be saved. Because the Holy Spirit had come upon these Gentiles, Peter pointed out that there could be no reason for them to be refused or delayed in being baptized, and so he ordered it done. Note that Peter did not do the actual baptisms but ordered them to be done, so they would have been done by the brethren that accompanied Peter. Baptism does not have to be done by an “apostle,” or for that matter, a “pastor” or even a church leader.
The chapter ends with Peter staying with them for a few days to build them up in their faith. That brings up another important point in evangelism.
The central issue in telling others about Jesus Christ is not salvation from Hell even though that seems to be the common idea in American Christianity. The central issue in proclaiming the gospel is salvation from sin so that believer can walk with God in righteousness. There are huge differences between the two ideas. If salvation is from sin, then you have also taken care of the question of eternal destiny. If the salvation is just from Hell, then sin is still left as a problem. This is one of the reasons so many people who profess to be Christians live in a manner that is often indistinguishable from the non-Christian. If you have your fire insurance policy, then the manner of life you live is relatively unimportant. But Paul makes it clear in Romans 6 that salvation is from sin and death to life and holiness in Christ, or as he puts it in verse 22, “but now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” If salvation is just from hell, then discipleship is not important. If salvation is from sin, then discipleship is very important so that the new believer can be taught to observe all that Jesus commanded just as Matthew 28:20 states.
Are you saved from sin or are you saved from Hell? Is walking with Christ in righteousness important to you or of little concern because you have your fire insurance policy?
There is another ramification of this mind set that has greatly affected the American church in our time. Many churches have developed what is commonly referred to as “seeker services.” The stated reason is to be more sensitive to so called “seekers” in order to bring them to Christ. There is nothing wrong with being sensitive to non-Christians in an effort to bring them to Christ. However, such sensitivity cannot result in a changing of the gospel message, which is what happens when the focus becomes getting people saved from Hell instead of sin. The resulting tragedy of this is that so many churches in their effort to reach the world have become worldly. Their worship services are no longer focused on God and His glory but on man and his comfort and preferences. There is no longer a call to repent from sin and walk in holiness for fear of offending the so called “seeker.”
The truth is that someone that is actually seeking God welcomes a call to repent. True seekers want to know the way to God and will follow that way once they know what it is. Their personal comfort level with the message is not an issue for them. That is what we saw in Cornelius and those with him. They were true seekers. They were already diligently following what knowledge they did have and when God revealed more to them through Peter, they immediately believed and followed that too. The so called “seekers” that many churches are catering to these days are actually only the curious who will stay only as long as the show is to their liking. If you are here today and not a Christian yet, then you need to ask yourself if you are a seeker after God as was Cornelius, or are you just curious. They say that curiosity killed the cat, but in the sense we are talking about it right now, curiosity will only lead to the eternal damnation of your soul. It is not enough to be curious. You need to actively seek after God and trust His promise that if you search for Him with all your heart and soul you will find Him (Deut. 4:29, etc.) for He is a rewarder of those who believe that He is and seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
This church is not here to entertain you and neither are we marketing Jesus to you. This church consists of followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who have gathered together to give honor, praise and glory to our God and to learn from His word more of His character and His will for our lives. We invite you to join us in that endeavor. If you are not a Christian, we would be pleased to talk with you individually and show you the way of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Talk with any of our church leaders after the service. If you are a Christian, we invite you to become part of this local fellowship as together we worship our God, are used by God in one another’s lives in helping each other become more like Christ, and declare our Savior to our community and beyond.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
– draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many Peter and Cornelius are mentioned. Talk with your parents your desire to seek after God.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Find Caesarea and Joppa on a map. How far apart are they? How long would it take to travel there and back by walking? What is the importance of a Centurion? Describe Cornelius’ character. What was the vision God gave to Cornelius and how did he respond to it? Where was the setting of Peter’s vision? What was his vision? Why was he resistant to the command given in the vision? Why was Peter so perplexed about it? What was the timing of Peter’s vision with the arrival of the men from Caesarea? Was this a coincidence? Why is it significant that Peter invited the Gentiles to stay with him? What was Cornelius’ initial reaction to Peter? How did Peter respond and why? Why did Peter give an explanation of why he was willing to come before he even asked why they sent for him? How had Cornelius prepared for Peter’s arrival? Outline Peter’s sermon to them. What is the significance of the Holy Spirit falling on them while Peter is was still preaching to them? Why were the Jews amazed? How man men from Joppa had come with Peter? Who baptized the Gentiles? Why did Peter stay longer? What is the central issue of the gospel? What are the characteristics of someone who truly seeks God?
Sermon Notes – February 5, 2006
The Conversion of the Gentiles – Acts 10:1-48
The Vision of Cornelius (vs. 1-8)
The Vision of Peter (vs. 9-23)
The Setting (vs. 9-10)
The Vision (vs. 10-16)
Peter’s Perplexity (vs. 17-21)
Peter is Invited to Caesarea (vs. 22-23)
Peter In Caesarea (vs. 24- )
Initial Meeting (vs. 24-25)
Peter’s Explanation (vs. 28-29)
Cornelius’ Expectation (vs. 30-33)
Peter’s Sermon (vs. 34-43)
The Holy Spirit’s Coming (vs. 44-46)
Baptism of the Gentiles (vs. 47-48)
Peter’s Continuing Ministry (vs. 48)
The Central Issue of Salvation
True Seekers of God
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