“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all of his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.”
So begins the record of the conversion of Cornelius, of his friends and the members of his household. This is the fifth of the nine most detailed conversions listed in book of Acts of Apostles and is only slightly shorter in total narrative than was the story of Paul’s conversion. We will look into this record as it is listed beginning in chapter ten verse one and continuing through chapter eleven verse 29.
The name Cornelius is Roman Latin, and so Cornelius was undoubtedly Italian. He was neither an Israelite nor a Jew, and he was not a proselyte-at-the-gate as the Ethiopian had most likely been. As it is clearly stated in the narrative he was a gentile, a non-Jew, a person of “the nations” yet one who obviously knew and was respectful of the religion of Abraham, but who was not a part of it. It is then the first record of a gentile conversion, and it is from this point that the gospel is now spread to the peoples outside of the religion of the Jews. It also contains the history of the second (and last) recording of a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, with all of that noted, it is nonetheless primarily the record of conversion of a godly man. He is stated to be one who feared God, as did all that came under his influence and who were under his personal charge. He obviously exerted a strong example for good over his friends. And having a form of godliness and knowing the power behind it served as a blessing to both him and to those who came in contact with him. It is also a lesson in that in spite of being a godly person and a worshipper of God, those things alone are simply not good enough — you still must do more than “be good” or godly. This record proves again that despite character or goodness, that you still need to follow the given instructions just as the rest had. Goodness, morality and character (and the like) are desirable and respected traits, even necessary to please God, but they will not save you today and they did not save Cornelius or his friends then. Salvation is in the instructions and in our doing as we have been instructed by the word of God.
Beginning now with the third verse: “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ and when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it, lord?’ So he said to him, ‘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.’”
Cornelius witnessed a vision and followed the instructions as they were given to him. As was the case with Paul, he is told to send for the preacher. The language is almost identical: “He will tell you what you must do.” The vision did not “save” Cornelius.
I’ll take the opportunity once again to comment upon this with no concern in mind whatsoever that I might endanger someone through repetition of what has already been said. It seems that even if you are “a godly person” as was the case here, and even supposing that you might have been handpicked to become an apostle as had been the case with Paul (and which certainly is not the case with anyone else), you still could not and would not “be saved” either through seeing a vision, in a personal visitation from Christ himself, or by receiving an anointing of the Holy Spirit. We’ll let the scriptures explain why that is still true in some detail in the second part of this essay.
But to note it here in its essence, you still had to follow the instructions. You had to do and must now do the exact same things that were instructed for all. First, you must come into contact with the Word. You do this either through reading and studying on your own or by seeing a local teacher or preacher that tells it straight. Secondly, you must believe and act, changing what you are doing. Then you must be immersed in water, be baptized into Christ. Again — you must hear, believe, repent, and be baptized. As hard as you may look, you will never find anything beyond these express acts being obeyed in order to save a soul — any soul.
Although the incidental information is different in this record from the others, and although this set of conversions was directed by God and the events were isolated and selected for the desired outcome, the conversion still conforms to this same pattern. I’ll grant that it was predestined, yet what would that have to do with you or me? The form and detail by which the persons involved became Christians is still exactly the same as with those found in the previous four examples we have here already examined. Do you suppose any of that will change in any of the rest of the detailed conversions found in the book of Acts? Do you see a pattern?
Here the individual whose prayers had been heard is given instructions to summon the preacher. As an aside, it seems that it is a good idea for sincere persons to pray for aid in their salvation. However, it is not a good idea to just sit around and wait for the answer to drop from the sky. Cornelius did not do that. And you are not Cornelius and this is not that day, and your condition is not that circumstance.
With that noted, it once again remains a very good idea to follow the instructions just as they are given. So Cornelius did that and sent two of his servants and a trusted soldier from the company along to Joppa to fetch Peter. By the way do you suppose that Andrew would have served just as well as the preacher supposing that Peter was “busy” and couldn’t make the trip? What if they had gone to a different place to search for a preacher because the road to Joppa was under construction and was a slow ride or inconvenient? What instructions have you and I been given to follow? The bottom line is that they did exactly as they were instructed. What are you doing?
The text continues with this —
The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.
Peter didn’t get enough time to ponder this through when the knock came at the door. Sometimes that is the best way to get our attention, to sequence events so that we have to keep processing: no time to think. When Peter awakes the men sent by Cornelius are at the gate. And while he is pondering things silently, the Spirit tells him to get up and go and not to doubt anything. And as with the intended, the preacher also does exactly as he had been bidden.
This was their instruction in seeking Peter — “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.”
Well Peter, you being the requested preacher, we were sent to bring you to be a guest in our master’s house and we (our master as well as all of the rest of us) are primed and ready and fully prepared to listen to everything that you have to say — which we all know will be the word of God. This is where they were seeking to get to the “hearing” part of the plan of salvation.
What a remarkable thing. These folks weren’t caught in the fog of their wisdom and of their own making, and they weren’t trying to do their own thing, vainly to worship a God of their own measure and construction. But they were interested in the good news and in worshipping the God of creation and in getting it done fitly and properly so that it would first be pleasing to God. Most would do nothing at all.
Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together.
Not much needs to be said to our Catholic readers or to those others who would put the preacher up on a pedestal where all that then happens is that he makes a most excellent target for sin and Satan’s use. I think that it is safe to say that Peter never allowed anyone to either bow to him or to worship him. What sayest thou?