Two Visions that Change the Trajectory of the Gospel Message
Acts 10 and the story of Cornelius and Peter is one of the most important stories in the Bible for every person who is not a Jew. In this chapter of the Bible, we find a trajectory shift in the life of the church and its mission – one where the gospel message is taken to the Gentile world. God uses an unlikely duo from different races and different socioeconomic classes to show that He shows no partiality. His forgiveness and saving grace is for everyone who fears Him and surrenders their life to Him – regardless of race, class, past, or present. The Gospel is for everyone!
The Message of Peter’s Vision: No Partiality
Without the vision Peter received, he would not have had the message spoken in the vision that said: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Peter’s lifelong adherence to the Jewish food laws collided with the Lord’s command to kill and eat unclean animals that were a part of Peter’s vision. Peter’s response to the Lord’s command is: “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”
But the Lord was using this vision to teach Peter that God shows no partiality. The Gospel message was not just for the Jews. It is for whoever fears God and believes in Jesus. The message the Lord gave Peter through the vision prepared Peter to go to Cornelius as he was instructed in the vision.
Over in Caesarea, a Roman Centurion also has a vision. The Bible tells us that Cornelius is a devout man. He is kind and generous. And he is a man who feared God. That phrase is important because remember that in Peter’s vision, the Lord teaches Peter that God shows no partiality and that the gospel is for every person who fears God…and here we have a roman centurion who fears God.
Cornelius also is a man who “prays to God always.” In the first part of chapter 10, we’re not told what he is praying for. But then Cornelius has a vision and in his vision an angel of God comes to him and calls him by name. He has a very natural reaction — he’s afraid, but says, “What is it, lord?” And the angel says, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” Then the angel leaves. But we still don’t know exactly what Cornelius was praying for.
The Unlikely Duo demonstrates God shows no partiality
Peter and Cornelius was about as different as you could get. Peter was a Jew. Cornelius was Roman. Peter had been a fisherman, then a follower of Jesus whom the Romans crucified. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion and member of the Italian Regiment. Peter was dependent on the generosity of the Church for a place to stay and food to eat. Cornelius had a house and gave away money generously to other people. But this unlikely duo had one thing in common: their belief and faith in Christ and that bond would break through the social norms and launch the gospel message to the Gentile world. God would use these two polar opposite men to let the entire world know that He shows no partiality to those who place their faith in Him.
Answer to prayer
Have you ever been someone’s answer to prayer? Has God used you in some way that met a need someone had? That is what Peter is to Cornelius. He’s an answer to prayer.
In response to Cornelius’ prayer and fasting, Peter has his vision and the Lord sends Peter to Caesarea to see Cornelius. At this point, the Christians were already being persecuted and Roman soldiers were their persecutors. So imagine Peter’s gut reaction when some men stood at his gate looking for him and the Spirit says to Peter: “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”
When Peter arrives at Cornelius’ home, we find that Cornelius has gathered all his family and close friends together. This is significant, because he had been praying for someone to come and explain the scriptures to him. When Peter arrives, Cornelious didn’t have to go out and find his family and bring them home – they were already gathered and expecting God to answer his prayer.
Peter says, “For what reason have you sent for me?” Peter still hasn’t put together the vision and his purpose for being sent to Cornelius’ home. He only knows that God told him to go – and so he goes.
Cornelius then recounts the vision he had while praying and then finally in verse 33 we learn what Cornelius had been praying for. “Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.” Cornelius was hungry to know more about God and he had been praying for God to send someone to him who could teach him what he needed to know about Him.
The Significance of Obedience
Both Peter and Cornelius were given separate visions that resulted in God bringing these two men together and they would experience a critical moment of decision. To obey God or not. The Roman Centurion could have responded with “A Jew? You want me to send for a Jew? What will all the other soldiers think if they see me talking with a Jew?” Peter could have responded with, “You want me to go where God? You do know that the Romans are persecuting us…right? Remember Stephen, God? I don’t want to go there. Send someone else.” But instead, they both promptly obey and because they did, all of us who are not Jewish have the gospel message. Because God shows no partiality, we have the same hope of eternal life. Since God shows no partiality, Jesus died for everyone.
The Church Today should also show no partiality
The church has been faced with the same decision throughout every generation since. Social boundaries, class boundaries, racial boundaries….from the early church to today, we still have much to overcome. Peter and Cornelius both had to decide if they would obediently follow God’s leading and overcome the barriers or sit at home and refuse to cross the lines. The church today is still making the same decision.
We find the problem in Acts 10:28 where social boundaries prevented Peter from associating with a Gentile. In verses 9-16, Peter is given a vision where heaven opens up and a great sheet bound at the four corners is lowered down to him. Inside were all kinds of four-footed animals, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds. A voice then instructs Peter to “kill and eat.” Because of Jewish food laws regarding “clean” and “unclean” meat, Peter replied, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” The voice replied, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” The vision occurred three times, even so, we see Peter very cautious about crossing the social boundaries until the very end of his encounter with Cornelius.
Jesus had already instructed his disciples in Acts 1:8 that there would be no geographical boundaries in the spreading of the gospel. He told them to go to Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth and the gospel was already spreading. In Acts 8, the Ethiopian eunuch was saved and baptized. After Philip baptized the Ethiopian the Bible tells us that Philip made his way to Caesarea and preached to the cities along the way. Perhaps it was Philip’s message in Caesarea that Cornelius responded to and became a Christian. We don’t know for sure but the gospel message had reached him and now he longed to know more about God.
Long before Peter and Cornelius’ divinely appointed meeting, Simeon declared in Luke 2:32 that Jesus would be both a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for Israel. Jesus crossed the social boundary with His encounter with the woman at the well. As Peter ministered alongside of Jesus, he would have seen Jesus go outside the social norms over and over again. And even with the vision, Peter is still uncertain, but he obediently goes and he goes without hesitation.
Peter’s AHA! Moment
When Peter arrives, Cornelius tells him about his vision and God’s solution clicks with Peter. . It is his AHA! moment. He finally gets it. Peter says to Cornelius in verse 28: “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for.” Then in verse 34 he says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” This does not mean God accepts all people no matter their response to Him or that people who fear Him do not need Christ. It doesn’t mean we can barter our way to heaven or pay our way to forgiveness. Rather, it means that God does not restrict any nationality or ethnicity from the free gift of salvation.
The Point of Peter’s Encounter with Cornelius: No Partiality
The whole point of the story of Peter and Cornelius is for us to know that God shows no partiality. The same God that reached out to Peter in Joppa was at the very exact moment reaching out to Cornelius in Caesarea. The same God that reaches out to a person in America, is reaching out to people in England, Germany, Russia, Ireland, Scotland, Africa, Asia, Australia, India, China, Japan, Korea, and every other nation on the face of the earth. The gospel is the same no matter where you’re from, no matter the color of your skin, no matter the language you speak and it is the gospel that calls us all to the Savior. In the eyes of God, we are all equal and Jesus died for all of us. God never intended there to be divisions among us because of nationality, or gender, or race. He commands us to go into every nation and tell people about Jesus. And He wants us to do so in the same way – with no partiality.
A New Commandment – Love as I have loved, showing no partiality
Within our churches today, there should never be an unwelcomed person due to ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or any other label. Every single person is a unique and glorious creation of God’s own hand. And every single person is lost and on their way to hell without the gospel message being received. In John 13:34, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” We can’t loves others like Jesus when we show partiality. We can’t love others when we allow race and the color of skin to divide us. But when we look at others through the eyes of Jesus and see them as He does we can open our hearts to love them like He does and carry out the mission of the church. The church’s mission is to bring the lost to Jesus and that’s what the church should be doing. And we need to be doing it like Jesus – showing no partiality
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