Acts 10:24–48 . . .
“Peter Gets the Message”
In last week's Acts 10:1–23 passage, Roman centurion Cornelius, a non-Jewish Gentile who'd become a devout, God-fearing man, responded to a request in a vision he'd had. He was to invite Simon, a Jewish apostle, to his house so he could hear and learn the gospel message from him. Before we begin today's discussion, let's realize the relevance of the Jewish cultural background of that day.
At this point in history, the Jews had a self-conceived viewpoint about who could be saved. To them, salvation was a Jewish-only reward. In other words Jews, and non-Jews who became Jews through circumcision, could be saved; but no one else. It made no sense to them that God could receive a non-Jew into fellowship with himself unless he first became a Jew. They saw Jews as God’s chosen people; his "faves." They saw Gentiles as unclean, unholy, defiled, and unworthy of the gospel message. And so for ten years now, Jews have preached only to Jews.
The apostles should have known better. Jesus had told them many times that they were to "take the gospel to the whole world" (Matthew 28:18–20; Mark 16:15–16; Luke 24:46–47; Acts 1:8). But the closed-mindedness of their Jewish culture over hundreds of years made it extremely difficult for them to even imagine taking the gospel to the Gentiles, since any contact with them would defile them. Let's see how Peter and fellow Jews dealt with Cornelius at this unique house-warming occasion.
The angel who appeared in Cornelius's vision told him (v. 5), "Send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter." After having his own vision, and hearing the Spirit confirm the importance of his upcoming visit with Cornelius, Simon invited the men into his house as guests. The next morning, Peter and them, along with other believers from Joppa, left for Cornelius's house in Caesarea.
Peter at Cornelius’s House: Jews Meet Gentiles (10:24–33)
Cornelius was waiting for them. And he'd called together his relatives and close friends. He had a lot of faith in God! He was waiting for Peter to come, knowing that, since God motivated him to call Peter in the first place, God would bring the plan to completion. He himself met Peter at the door; he didn't know Peter, but must have thought him to be a special man of God, so he fell down at his feet in reverence for him. But Peter immediately corrected the error. Insisting that he was only a man, Peter helped Cornelius to his feet.
Cornelius was aware of this matter of defilement. However, he'd been divinely instructed to invite Peter into his home. It was thus with a great sense of expectation that Cornelius waited for Peter’s arrival, along with those friends and relatives he'd summoned.
Having entered Cornelius's house, Peter explained why he'd come. He'd actually entered a Gentile's home, something that Jewish customs and traditions strictly prohibited. By doing so, he demonstrated that his heart and mind had changed, and that he'd learned a lesson from his vision of the large sheet with animals on it (vv. 9–16).
Peter had to explain why he, a godly Jew (who was also a Christian) had entered a Gentile's house. So, he explained the message he received in his "sheet" vision, realizing that God wasn't only talking about food in that vision. Peter's "I came without raising any objection" confirmed it. If Peter hadn't had his vision, he'd have never have traveled with the Gentile messengers! God had prepared Peter's heart through that vision for Peter to have gone.
Peter seems to have been able to leap beyond the literal message conveyed in his dream, i.e., "Don’t call food unclean that God has made clean" to the deeper meaning, "Don’t call people unclean whom God has made clean" (v. 28). But it went well beyond this. Peter had just begun to understand that God doesn't show partiality among those whom he saves (vv. 34–35).
Peter’s Short Sermon to the Gentiles (vv. 34–43)
When Peter said in v. 34, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism," that was the foundation for Peter's understanding that the gospel should now go forth to Gentiles. This statement went against prevailing Jewish thought that God certainly showed partiality, towards the Jews and against the non-Jews. In essence, many Jews of Peter's day thought that God loved the Jews and hated the non-Jews.
Key words in Peter's sermon to the Gentiles were: "They killed him by hanging him on a cross," and "but God raised him from the dead on the third day." Notably, Peter's preaching to the Gentiles was essentially the same as was his preaching to the Jews. He presented the person and work of Jesus Christ, emphasizing Jesus' resurrection and our responsibility, before God, in light of these things.
Peter didn't have one sermon for one group and another sermon for another. All people needed to be saved by demonstrating a hearty faith in a living Jesus Christ. God broke down those old barriers that separated Jews and non-Jews, making one new man into one new entity — the church — composed of believing Jews and Gentiles. This was accomplished through the life-saving work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary.
So, What Had Happened? (vv. 44–48)
The Holy Spirit interrupted Peter’s sermon! How? The Gentiles to whom he was speaking began speaking with other tongues. That was evidence that: the Holy Spirit had come upon everyone (v. 44); the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them (v. 45); they'd received the Holy Spirit (v. 47). Evidently, when Peter got to that point in his sermon about everyone who'd believe would receive forgiveness of sins, they all believed and were forgiven of their sins!
As we come to the end of chapter 10, we must realize that we're not yet at the end of this episode that concludes in chapter 11. Throughout chapter 10, the focus has been on Peter and Cornelius: Peter proclaimed the gospel, Cornelius and those gathered with him believed, and the Spirit baptized them all. In next week's text, Peter’s Jewish colleagues in Jerusalem will object and we'll see how Peter responds. For now, let's conclude by focusing on at least three lessons that we should learn from today's text.
First, we should observe from our text that it's God who prepares and changes men’s hearts. In our text, we see God’s preparation of both Peter and Cornelius. Peter was reluctant to associate with non-Jewish Gentiles, much less to take the gospel to them, but God’s preparatory work in Peter’s heart was done when the messengers sent by Cornelius arrived. Cornelius was reluctant to ask a Jew to enter his house, but God prepared him to obey and send for Peter, just as he'd prepared all those in his house to believe the gospel that Peter would proclaim.
Second, we should learn that prayer is a two-way conversation. God speaks to men and women when they're in prayer. Prayer isn't just men and women speaking to God; prayer is God speaking to those who are listening to him as they pray. Many of us spend all of our prayer efforts talking to God, rather than listening for God to speak to us in some way.
Third, we should realize that Peter has become a fulfilled Jew. Consider how the argument of our text has developed. First, we saw that God used Peter to heal Aeneas (9:32–35); then there's the account of the raising of Dorcas who'd died (9:35–43). In both accounts, we saw Peter perform miracles that remind us of those that Jesus had performed. We even found similarity in the words Peter and Jesus used. As a result, Peter was acting and talking like Jesus.
Yes, Peter had begun to act and talk like Jesus. This is exactly the way it should be. It wasn't until chapter 10, however, that Peter really began to think like Jesus. Peter and his fellow-apostles had distorted ideas about the relationship that Jews and Gentiles were to have with Christ. He thought that the only way that a Gentile could come to faith was by becoming a Jew through conversion to Judaism. When Jesus commenced his earthly ministry, he made it very clear that he'd come to save both the Jews and the non-Jews (Luke 4:21–30).
Finally, Peter had opened the door of salvation to Gentiles who believed in Jesus. Non-Jews no longer needed to become Jewish converts to enjoy fellowship with God or with their fellow Christ-believing Jews.
- Q. 1 What kind of person would you have the most trouble visiting if God asked you to enter their house?
- Q. 2 Why is the story of Cornelius so important?
- Q. 3 What's the main point in Peter's sermon?
New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 10.]
† Watch this video clip of Acts 9:32–11:10, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Peter at Cornelius’s House
24The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.26But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.28He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a non-Jew. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
30Cornelius answered: “Three 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 31and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33So 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.”
34Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — 38how 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.
39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He 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. 42He 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. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.