Sermon: The Gentile Pentecost (Part 1) (Acts 10:1-8)

The Gentile Pentecost (Part 1)

Acts 10:1-8

Introduction

So far, we have seen the beginning of the Gospel moving out of Jerusalem into various other regions.  Because of the persecution over the death of Stephen we’ve seen the Gospel go to Samaria where those were considered ½ Gentile and ½ Jew were hearing the Gospel.  As the Bible so well states, to the Jew first then to the Greek.  We read about Philip sharing with the Ethiopian Eunuch how that one may be saved through Jesus Christ.  Here in this passage is a very significant truth: God accepts Gentiles as Gentiles.  In other words, God accepts Gentiles without going through any Jewish traditions.  Where circumcision, and Sabbath observance was once mandated now because of Jesus Christ, Gentiles can be Christians as Gentiles.

Peter has been traveling on his own missionary journey.  We saw last week he stopped at Lydda to heal a paralytic and then was called to go on to Joppa where Tabitha was dead.  In each case, Jesus healed the paralytic and raised Tabitha and the people at both locations believed the Gospel.

When last we heard, Peter is still in Joppa residing with Simon the tanner.

Today we are going to take a look at a Gentile, a Roman Centurion Soldier named Cornelius.  Luke takes great pains to make sure we see that Cornelius is as Gentile as they come.  In other words when he is converted, God officially is bringing in Gentiles as Gentiles into the Kingdom of God.  Notice how pagan Cornelius is.   The issue at hand here in the account today…and will continue throughout the NT Church is this: Can a Gentile believe on the Lord Jesus as a Gentile and be converted?  In the OT we have occasions where this has taken place but it is spotty at best.  We have the account of Jonah preaching to the Ninevites, we have the account of Ruth…but by in large God’s people up until this account have all been of Jewish descent.  Even for a non-Jew to become a God fearer, he had to submit to circumcision.  Here is a Gentile who is coming to Christ as a Gentile.

TT- Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God is calling all people groups to Himself.

Human need met by text

Acts 10:1-8 (ESV)
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort,
2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.”
4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.
5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.
6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him,
8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

1.  A Gentile Who Fears God

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort,
2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
Immediately at the beginning, Luke introduces us to Cornelius.  Notice all the good things he reports about this man…

As a God-fearer, Cornelius seems to be one who attends the local synagogue but is not a full convert to Judaism.  You could picture him at the fringe of Judaism.

The dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is crumbling as God pushes the Gospel out of Jerusalem and into far away lands.

Cornelius was devout in his practice of fearing God.

He had led his household to also do the same.  They had family worship in the home.

He gave generously to all who were needy…gave alms generously.

He was a prayer warrior…he prayed continually.

Really here at the beginning we must understand something.  I want to brace you for this…Cornelius was lost.  Even with all his good works, he was not saved.

You might be thinking to yourself, Yeah right, how is it that he could do all those things that God commanded unless he was one of God’s children?

There is the hook that Luke hides so well.  Luke’s strategy in the way he writes this account is to get us thinking that Cornelius is a pretty good guy and that surely God would accept this man based on his good works.  However, as we will see in a minute Cornelius desperately needed the Gospel.  We will be all the more shocked when he does become a Christian.

Proof that he is not already saved-

Acts 11:4-18 (ESV)
4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order:
5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me.
6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air.
7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’
8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’
10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.
11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea.
12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.
13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter;
14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’
15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.
16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

I think even we are so brainwashed into a works mentality that we for some reason assume that Cornelius, because that he is devout and prays and gives and has discipled his family to do the same, that these good works either make him acceptable to God or at least show that he is already accepted by God.  However, Scripture is very clear.  Cornelius had to hear the Gospel and believe to be saved by God.  To drive this home, I want to state it negatively…And if Peter never went or Cornelius never believed, he could give all he had, pray every second, and be the most devout man alive and would have went to hell at the end of his life…

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

We must come to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior…we must know Him and He must know us.  That is how we are saved.

2.  A God-given Vision

3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.”
4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.
5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.
6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
Before we begin with this section, it is vital to understand that this vision is God showing Cornelius what is about to happen before it happens.  Does God know the future?  How can God know what hasn’t happened yet?  He knows what will happen because He makes the future.  He tailors it to accomplish exactly what He wants.  It’s one thing to just know what will happen next, it’s another thing entirely to build on it and manufacture it how you desire.

God knew exactly how, when, and where Cornelius would be saved.  Beloved, He knows everything about you and your life.  Only God can say,

Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV)
5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Only God can make those types of statements…Stay clear from the love of money, he says, why?  His reasoning, because we do not need to hoard money.  That’s why God says, be content with what you have.  Why, because God knows the future.  We do not need to be overly concerned with the future.  God is creating the future and He loves us.  To make it even surer, he says, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.

So, the God who knows the future also love His children.  This same God commands us not to love money but be content.  Now if God commands us not too place too much stock in our ability to gain money whether through a job or any other way then He has placed Himself in as it were, a vulnerable position.  God must come through or He has made Himself out to be a God whom we cannot trust.  We can trust Him and we must trust Him.  You see, a person who does not believe these verses will always be looking for something more because they’re not content with what they have.  They don’t believe God when He tells them that He will never leave them nor forsake them.  This person is always discontent and never at peace.  This person always thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  This person will never be content; he is like the farmer who tore down his barns to house all his goods.  He’s the person who will never be content regardless because he is always thinking there is something better somewhere else.  God commands His people to be content with what He provides.

God manufactures the future, tailor made for His glory and our good.  The future here would bring God an infinite amount of honor and Cornelius and all his family were within God’s plan.

The Bible tells us it was the ninth hour, this was one of the appointed Jewish times of prayer…about three in the afternoon.  During his prayer time, he has a God given vision.  The ninth hour is also the time of the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple.  It is in this realm of sacrifice that God is remembering Cornelius.

When the angel appears and is asked What is it, Lord?” he responds, Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.

Here, God is moving based on Cornelius’ God-given faith.  God always takes the initiative and always responds to faith.  So far this is not to be seen as saving faith but it is God working to stir up Cornelius to seek Him all the more.  God was at work in the heart of Cornelius and as Cornelius prays and practices alms-giving he does so as a sacrifice.  The angel says that these two acts were done with the right motives and God views them as a memorial.

The term memorial comes from Leviticus mainly as the sacrifices that the Jews were making, specifically the priests in Leviticus 2.  Here the memorial offering was a pleasing aroma to God.  So too for Cornelius, his prayers and alms-giving were a memorial offering to God…a pleasing aroma to the Lord.  God was pleased even when one not yet saved was practicing God ordained things.

His practices were showing that he was being obedient to the revelation God had granted him and so God was pleased to take Cornelius the rest of the way.

As one commentator writes about Cornelius’ pious acts, They were not the achievements of the self-righteousness, but his heart-cries for rescue and atonement.  Therefore the angel promised a messenger who would bring words of salvation. [1]

3. An Immediate Response

7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him,
8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

This was music to his ears.  No one had to tell him twice.  To imagine that he, a Gentile…an uncircumcised Gentile at that could enter into the covenant with God was beyond anything Cornelius ever hoped or imagined.  No more would his devotion to God be limited, no more would he be denied full entrance into God’s kingdom.  Cornelius and his family would be just as Jewish as anyone else.  They would become God’s people.

You see if God had more He wanted Cornelius to hear…he had to hear it.

TT- Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God is calling all people groups to Himself.

Through the death of Jesus, God has begun accepting Gentiles as Gentiles into His kingdom.  God does not respond to Cornelius’ piety so much as He is on the move to fulfill His promise to His Son.

God the Father speaking to His Son Jesus Christ…

Psalm 2:8 (ESV)
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
Exhortation to godliness

Beloved, what a Savior we have!

Romans 9:24-26 (ESV)
24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

Cornelius has sent some faithful trusted soldiers to find Peter and bring him back just like God said.  There is one major problem.  Jews cannot come into the home of a Gentile.  They cannot eat with them or in any way have close contact with them lest they too become unclean.

Come back next week to hear the rest of the account of Cornelius and the Gentile Pentecost.


[1] Let’s Study Acts by Dennis Johnson page 125

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