The Purpose: In writing Acts to Theophilus, Luke had specific objectives (Acts 1:1,2; Luke 1:1-4). This was one of those objectives: explaining how Christianity moved from Jewish poor people in a small nation to influencing people [including prominent people] as a world movement. That was a significant explanation! The Jewish people in Palestine lived [by choice] in isolation. In Palestine devout Jews deliberately limited contact with people who were not Jews. Christianity began in a small country among people noted for religious intolerance and closed communities. Many of their prominent people and leaders opposed Christianity. Yet, it became a world movement that touched people who were not Jews. How did that happen? The explanation began by revealing why the gospel was presented to Cornelius, his relatives, and close friends.
Peter's situation: From the beginning of Christianity (Acts 2), Peter led the Jewish Christian movement (Acts 3:4,12; 4:8; 5:1-5,9,15,29). Jesus promised Peter he would open the doors of God's kingdom (Matthew 16:19) [Matthew 18:18 states all the apostles would "bind" and "loose."]
From Acts 1 to Acts 9, Christianity was a Jewish movement. Israel was God's chosen people. The promise of a Messiah (Christ) was given to Israel. God's law was given to Israel. Israel knew the living God. Most people outside Israel did not even know the living God. The Jewish mindset, including the mindset of Jewish Christians, did not think the gospel was for all people. Not even devout Jewish Christians considered sharing the resurrected Jesus with people who did not know the living God. Even Peter considered that "unthinkable."
God prepared Peter to understand what Peter never considered. God used a repeated vision [three times!] of common and unclean animals (vv. 9-16), a repeated command [three times!] (v. 13), and direct instruction from the Holy Spirit (vv. 19,20) to prepare Peter for the "unthinkable." Peter believed the gospel belonged to those within Judaism. He rejected God's direct command (v.14) and was perplexed by his vision (v. 17). Sharing Jesus with those not converted to Judaism was "unthinkable." Peter went to Cornelius' home because of God's conditioning (v. 29). Yet, Peter did not understand why he was there.
Peter's baptism command to people who were not converts to Judaism (v. 48) irreversibly changed Peter's life and role as a Christian leader.
Cornelius' Situation: Evidence suggests Cornelius was a prominent person. He was a Roman military officer known as a centurion. Centurion's were in charge of one hundred men. He was stationed in Caesarea, a city in Palestine located by the Mediterranean Sea. Herod the Great built Caesarea to serve as a Judean port. Later, the city was the official residence of the Roman governors who ruled the Jews. Basically, people who were not Jews lived there, though it had Jewish residents. It is significant that Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea.
This man who was not Jewish or a convert to Judaism was a God fearer. He is described as devout, a man who influenced his household to fear God, and a man who was charitable toward the Jews (v.2). This devout man who daily prayed to the living God occupied a major role in the Christian movement's transition from a national movement in a small country to a world movement. Jewish sacrifices rose as memorials to God. Cornelius' prayers and alms rose as a memorial to God (v. 4).
An angel commanded him to send for Peter. Peter would share God's message with him. He immediately sent two servants and a devout soldier to invite Peter to come (v. 7). The trip was more than a day's walk [about thirty miles]. The men left after three in the afternoon and arrived about noon the next day (v. 9). The return trip took two additional days (vv. 23,24). Cornelius anticipated their arrival and waited with relatives and friends to hear Peter's message (v. 24).
The "double lesson" sermon: The sermon had a double lesson. For Peter, the lesson was God's desire to save all people through Jesus Christ. That lesson astounded Peter! He arrived in Caesarea with new understandings. He knew [as did they] it was highly unusual for Jews to visit the home of people who were not Jews (v. 28). Yet, he and his Jewish witnesses were there. They were there because Peter grasped his vision's meaning: no person should be called common or unclean. However, Peter did not understand the reason for the invitation.
After Cornelius explained why he sent for Peter, Peter fully understood. "I certainly understand now. God does not prefer one people over another. [What an insight for a first century Jew!] Any person in any nation who reverences God and works righteousness may belong to God" (vv. 34,35). For any first century Jew, that was a huge, incredible understanding.
With that understanding, Peter introduced Cornelius and those assembled to Jesus the Lord. For the first time, Peter understood Jesus peaceably united Jews with those who were not Jews. Cornelius needed to understand that it was unnecessary for him to be "an outsider."
Cornelius and those assembled knew about Jesus. They heard that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power, and that Jesus used his anointing to do good and heal (v. 38).
They knew Jesus was crucified at Jewish insistence, but Peter knew Jesus was resurrected (vv. 39-41). Peter was a witness! He ate and drank with Jesus after Jesus' resurrection! Jesus "ordered" him and the apostles to proclaim what happened (v. 42). They were to testify that God appointed the Resurrected One to serve as the Judge of the living and dead.
The Interruption: God interrupted the sermon by letting the Holy Spirit "fall" on the listeners in Cornelius' home (v. 44). The Jewish witnesses were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was "poured out" on people who were not Jews. The witnesses understood these people as they spoke with tongues and exalted God (v. 46). Peter asked the witnesses if they could refuse to allow the listeners to be baptized (v. 47). He then ordered the listeners to be baptized in Jesus' name (48).
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 2, Lesson 8
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