Lesson 23: The Spirit Sends Peter to Cornelius
Welcome to Acts, lesson #23. In our last lesson we covered two miracles (1) the healing of Aeneas, (2) Dorcas was restored to life. While Peter was at Joppa, God sent an angel to a Roman soldier in Caesarea named Cornelius. That was the beginning of Acts 10. Cornelius was a devout man and a very moral man., I suggested you think of this incident as a Gentile Pentecost. Now, this did not happen on that Jewish feast day called Pentecost. But here's the point: just as the kingdom was first opened to the Jews on that Sunday morning we read about in Acts 2; the kingdom was opened to Gentiles first in Acts 10. The angel appeared to Cornelius in the middle of an afternoon, "About the ninth hour of the day" according to v.3. Cornelius was afraid according to v.4. He asked, "what is it Lord?" and the angel began to deliver a message. Let's read that message v. 4-5-6. "Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do." The first sentence in the angel's message (v.4) is interesting. I think it simply means God was impressed with Cornelius. The rest of the message could be paraphrased simply, "send for Peter." The angel in effect gave the address where Peter was staying in Joppa. Cornelius didn't hesitate. V.7-8 let's read, "And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa." O.K. as soon as the angel departed, he sent messengers according to the angel's instruction. I would assume the servants went as messengers and the soldier went as protection. They left immediately. Joppa and Caesarea are about 30 miles apart and as you can see on the map both are on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Now, v.6 said Simon's house was by the sea side. So, these three men must have followed the shoreline South. They must have bult a fire and camped under the stars that night on the beach. Apparently they reached their destination about noon the next day. Let's read v. 9-16, "on the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four comers, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven." For Peter to be on the housetop was not as unusual as it may sound to us. Those houses were built like a cube and the roof was flat. A stairway led to the roof and it was used as we would use a porch or sun porch. Peter must have found this a private and convenient place where he could be alone for a fee minutes while the cooks in Simon's house were finishing dinner. He was anxious to eat. He prayed but the call for dinner was delayed. "He fell into a trance." Now, don't get excited, that doesn't mean he got hurt. That means he received a divine message. The only divine message I ever received is what I read from the bible. But, god dealt with Peter differently. What he saw is described in v. 11-15. He saw a great big giant sheet, like a piece of cloth, held by the four corners and let down from the sky to the earth. Now we are not told who was holding the sheet. But we are told what was in it. Peter recognized four-footed beast of the earth. Now I don't know which ones. Wild beasts, creeping things and birds. Peter was told "kill and eat." Peter was hungry, but the Law of Moses in Leviticus ch. 11 gave the rules for selecting animals to be eaten. For example, among four footed beasts they could eat only those that had a split hoof and chewed the cud. That eliminated horses, camels, swine, etc. The criteria for fish, bird and insects are also given there. Now, Peter saw all kinds of animals mixed together on this sheet-like container. Everything! Both clean and unclean! So, to that command, "kill and eat" Peter refused on the grounds, "1 have never eatenanythingthatiscommonorunclean." )V.14). Yousee, Peter had never used any other criteria that the Law of Moses in selecting food. Peter had understood and preached on Pentecost and in Solomon's porch and many other times, that the steps for becoming a child of god, now were different than they were under the Law of Moses. But it apparently had never occurred to him classifying food as clean and unclean was all part of that old contract, the Law of Moses. Notice in v.l 5 Peter is told, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." Do you get the import of that statement? God hath cleansed! Therefore, it is NOT unclean to do that thing. Some part(s) of the vision was repeated three times, I would assume for emphasis. The sheet, the animals and everything disappeared and Peter was released from the trance or vision. Now, let's read v.l7-23, "Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, and called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them, then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him fromCornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him." While Peter was sitting there meditating trying to get it all together, i.e. what the vision meant; Cornelius's messengers arrived, Then Peter suddenly got another message through the Spirit. "Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them." Peter still didn't have it all together apparently, but he obeyed the Spirit. He went down and met the messengers AND they gave him Cornelius' message. That message said, Cornelius had seen an angel also. The two messages dovetailed together, you can see. Peter was told to GO doubting nothing. Truly they had been sent by the Spirit. Peter undoubtedly didn't act as swift in going as Cornelius and his messengers had acted in coming. He lodged them, i.e. he fed them and kept them over night. The next day they all left together. They traveled back up the coastline in the direction of Caesarea. Did you catch on in v.23? Peter took some brethren from Joppa with him. We are not told how many here but, we learn later, it was six men. Thus, nine men and a soldier journeyed along. They did not arrive in Caesarea until the following day. V.24, let's read. "And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends." This was the 4* day after Cornelius had seen the angel. He would have known approximately how long it would have taken for the message to reach Joppa and for Peter to arrive. So, Cornelius had a crowd waiting. Cornelius' kinsmen would have included his family. And having the military rank he did possibly other relatives and servants lived with him. Near friends could have included anyone. V.25-26 let's read, "And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshiped him. But Peter took him, up, saying, stand up; I myself also am a man." Cornelius was highly awed by the presence of Peter. Coming from a heathen nation, this was a very understandable mistake on the part of Cornelius. It was a way of expressing his highest respect for a man that had been directed to him by an angel. Peter would not permit Cornelius to worship him. This gives us one more insight into the humility and attitude of the apostles. Peter considered himself ONLY a man. The Holy Spirit dwelt in Peter miraculously, but it is clear from this incident: all worship must be directed to God, NOT to a men. This attitude is in strong contrast with the Papal systems of our day AND those who erroneously claim Peter was the first Pope of Rome. After preventing Cornelius from worshiping him, Peter continued to talk WITH Cornelius as they complete their entry into the house. The conversation, most naturally, was a further explanation that Cornelius and all men should worship God and not worship men. It would appear that Peter suddenly turns to find himself facing the audience of Cornelius' kinsmen and friends. Here Peter gave an introductory thought or explanation to the group. He concluded with a question for his own benefit. V.27-28-29 let's read, "And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I unto you without gain saying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?" It would appear from Peter words, he felt out of place. This was probably his first experience going into the home of a Gentile. He explained, up until now, this would have been unlawful for a circumcised Jew to keep company with a Gentile. But, he explains God had showed him, he should NOT call any man common or unclean. Thus, you have Peter's interpretation of the vision he saw on the roof portico of Simon the tanner's house. He explains, he is following God's instruction AND he has complied with the request to come. Now, for his own benefit, he asks in essence: Why am I here? In response to his question, Cornelius replies in the presence of the group for the benefit of Peter and all who were present. V.30-33 let's read, "and Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour 1 prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of god. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou are come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.? Everything in Cornelius' statement agrees with what we already know. No new information is given except that the angel which Cornelius saw was in bright clothing and that Cornelius was praying when the angel appeared. A fact that almost everyone who reads v.3-4 would suspect but is not said in those verses. Cornelius concluded his summary by saying, (now, I'm paraphrasing v 33:1 did just what I was instructed. You have accommodated by request to come. So, here we are. I'm anxious to know what God has commanded and what I need to know. In response, Peter then began a sermon, 10 verses long. A sermon that was interrupted! Now, that is par for the course with Peter's sermons, you have already learned. But, we are going to hold that sermon for lesson #24. So tune in next time and we'll analyze what Peter said on this Gentile Pentecost. In closing, may I call your attention by was of review to some of the things we should have learned in this lesson. Peter and the other apostles were going throughout all quarters, edifying the brethren. We are given a brief summary of two places where Peter labored, Lydda and Joppa. Peter was called from Lydda to Joppa at the death of Dorcus. Then was call from Joppa to Caesarea by divine intervention. Although Jesus HIMSELF called Saul and ultimately Saul became the Apostle to the Gentiles, (Rom. 11:13) it was not Saul (but Peter) who was directed to preach the first sermon to the Gentiles. Peter was also present and preached on Pentecost to the Jews, you will remember, along with the other eleven Apostles. However, Peter was the only apostle, directed to the household of Cornelius. He was accompanied by six other Jewish brethren from Joppa, possibly as WITNESSES but none of these were apostles, except Peter. Did you notice the timing of the divine intervention? An angel came from God, to Cornelius AND instructed him to send for Peter and said, "he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do." Thus we see a man (who was a great example of morality) was told to send for Peter, that he might find out, what he"ought" to do. So, as moral as he was, he was NOT a saved man. This man Cornelius AND his household, were selected as the first Gentiles to be ushered into the Kingdom of God. By that, I mean, to be added to the church. Peter was given a divine lesson, AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME that God had cleansed and now considered Gentiles equal with the Jews. So, the Gentiles, unorthodox foods, etc have apparently been acceptable EVER SINCE according to God's law. I must admit, it would be hard for me, to glean this fact from Peter's vision, if indeed I could conclude it at all. However, we are given the benefit of Peter's interpretation of this vision, which makes these facts indisputable. And, the balance of the N.T. corroborates this point. As an example, consider this reading from Ephesians 2:11-18. This was written to the Ephesian church. Those disciples were former Gentiles like Cornelius. There were once "afar off', as you remember Peter said on Pentecost, Acts 2:39. You must realize the book of Ephesians was written AFTER the time of Cornelius. Turn with me to Eph. 2:11-18. Let's read. "Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were night. For through him we both have access by one spirit unto the Father." The word "Circumcision" has reference to the Jews. The word "Uncircumcision" has reference to Gentile. V. 12 makes it plain; the Gentiles had no hope and were without God in the world. They were strangers and aliens, i.e. foreigners from the promise. But beginning at the household of Cornelius (v14) Gentiles are made nigh, i.e. acceptable by the blood of Christ; whereas they were NOT by the old covenant. V.14, makes it clear: Jews and Gentiles were once separated by a wall or a partition. Now that partition is broken down and both are NOW ONE. That is, accepted as one people. Now, v.15 says the law of Moses was abolished. Jews and Gentiles were made ONE new man, i.e. ONE new race of people. V.I 6 points out, the two are now reconciled into one body, i.e. the church. V.I8 means: both Jews and Gentiles NOW have access to the Father. As was said before; a working knowledge of Acts 10 is necessary to properly understand the remaining books of the N.T. As was the case with the eunuch, and with Saul, divine intervention brought Cornelius, (the prospect) and the preacher together. But, in every case the prospect was taught by the human agency, NOT the divine agency. Thus, we must conclude; there is NO precedent for receiving salvation by a divine experience, in these passages. The doctrines that teach; a divine experience is necessary to becoming a Christian are NOT supported by this text or any other text in the N.T. Have a good day!