Acts 10:24-48

St._Peter_Preaching_at_PentecostActs 10:24-48

24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” 30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

I used to live near a very elderly man who was, to put it mildly, a colorful character.  He was a member of another church in the town where I pastored but I would go by from time to time and talk with him.  The rumor was that he had once killed a black man and gotten away with it.  His manners did not do much to render that rumor unlikely, but I never asked him if that was so.  What he did volunteer to me one day, however, has troubled me ever since.  I was asking him about his church involvement and he shared with me that he was indeed a member of a local church and used to be quite involved.  He then excitedly went on to tell me with great pride that he had spear-headed the effort to keep blacks from coming into the church and he had been most successful in his efforts.  It struck me then as now as a chilling and pitiful thing to be proud of.

Not too far from where we lived at that time was Koinonia Farms, the experimental Christian community founded in the 1950’s in South Georgia by Southern Baptist minister Clarence Jordan.  You have perhaps heard of The Cotton Patch Gospel.  Clarence Jordan wrote that retelling of the gospels, setting them in 1950’s Georgia in an effort to show how the events of the gospel would play out in their own day and time.  Koinonia was controversial at the time and, in truth, I met with some controversy and confusion about it even when I lived near it not too long ago.  It was most controversial because of the way in which blacks were welcomed and treated as equals there.  Jordan paid all the farmers the same, black or white.  This led to boycotts in neighboring Americus, Georgia, as well as in the community being shot at and firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan.

One of the early residents there was Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.  Fuller once spoke of the early days of Koinonia and the trials they faced.  They told of how the pastor of a local white church had come to have lunch with them one day.  As he left, he said to the assembled group, “We have a Christmas musical tonight.  Y’all come on out and see us!”  So many from the community decided to do so.  Included in the group was a black resident of Koinonia.

They went to the church, entered it, and sat in the back.  The moment the young black man sat down, an usher ran to him and told him he had to leave, that he was not welcome there.  This caused quite a stir as the man and many of his friends were ushered out.  Fuller says he can still remember when it happened.  As it happened, he recalled, the congregation was singing, “Joy to the World!”

What a tragic irony.

Brothers.  Sisters.  This should not be.

But the Church has had its divisions throughout time and has had from the very beginning to come to terms with what it means that Christ came to create a single people out of many peoples.

We saw in the first half of Acts 10 that God began moving the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles toward each other through the persons of Peter and Cornelius.  Cornelius sent for Peter and Peter came.  Now we are privileged to see the unfolding of this most unlikely meeting.

Peter and Cornelius both grow in their understanding of God and man.

This was an initially awkward meeting to be sure.  Both Peter and Cornelius had to grow in their understandings of God and man.  We can see this in our text.

24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered.

The eagerness with which Cornelius receives Peter as well as his having assembled his friends and family is demonstrative of his intense search for the truth.  We would do well to notice that Cornelius is not shy about his faith even when he is not terribly certain of exactly what his faith is!  Even so, we see the deficiencies of his faith in the fact that he falls at Peter’s feet to worship him.  Clearly he saw Peter as a kind of divine messenger.  Peter is quick to correct him.  Thus, we see that Cornelius has to grow in his understanding of God and man but not falling at the feet of Peter as if he were more than a man.

But Peter also had to grow in his understanding of God and man.

28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” 30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

We must not miss how unbelievable it is that Peter (a) goes to this Gentile home and (b) enters this Gentile home.  Peter is a follower of Jesus, but he is still in the process of learning exactly what that means, particularly as it relates to people he previously considered unclean and untouchable.

Therefore he points out to them that Jews do not normally enter the house of Gentiles.  The Mishnah says, “The dwelling-places of Gentiles are unclean.”[i]  Peter knew this as an observant first century Jew.  However, the gospel of Christ is not pushing against what he thinks he knows and he is, again, growing up.

Peter makes two beautiful statements that reveal this growth.  The first is in verse 28:  “but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”  The second is in verse 34:  “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

John Polhill points out that “the Greek word used for favoritism (v.34) is constructed on a Hebrew idiom meaning to lift a face.”  Thus, Polhill interprets Peter’s statement to mean that “Peter saw that God does not discriminate on the basis of race, or ethnic background, looking up to some and down on others.”[ii]

If Cornelius had to learn that no man should be lifted up above humanity, Peter had to learn that no people should be debased beneath humanity.  To put it simply, both sides had to learn that there are only people.  People are people and God is God.  There is a liberating simplicity about this!  It is the theological and anthropological foundation on which the gospel works:  people are people and God is God.

If the early believers did not come to learn this, they would not have preached the gospel to the nations.  If early Gentiles did not learn this, they would not have dared to approach.

Even though Cornelius is a virtuous man with some sense of who God is, he and his family still need to know and embrace the gospel.

Cornelius also had to grown in his understanding of divine truth.  Clearly he understood something of divine truth.  He knew there was a God and he knew that he was accountable to this God and he knew that his life should reflect the fact that he was accountable to this God.  But what he did not know was the actual gospel of Jesus Christ that saves.  Thus, Peter proclaims it to those assembled in his house.

36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Peter preaches the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.  He preaches the ongoing life of Christ in and through the Church.  Then he makes an appeal:  “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Let us simply note that Peter is not content to leave Cornelius and his friends with a vague sense of God.  It is not enough for Peter that Cornelius believes something.  No, as a witness to the risen Christ, Peter wants Cornelius to believe in Christ.

In our day the following statement has become almost formulaic, especially among celebrities:  “I am spiritual but not religious.”  Often what one discovers when they hear this idea unpacked is that those saying it are at peace with a general notion of God or of a spirit world or of some sense of transcendence.  But this is not enough!  People need to embrace the actual gospel of the actual Christ.

In Romans 1 Paul spoke of the general knowledge of God that all people have through nature.  Tellingly, he notes that this general revelation only succeeds in condemning us, not saving us.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Man thus rejects what little he can know of God.  Even if, in the case of Cornelius, he responds as virtuously as he can, he still has a deficient knowledge and understanding of the truth of God.

Men and women need Christ.  Peter knew this and was therefore unwilling to leave Cornelius in his ignorance.  We, too, should feel such a discontent that we speak the name of Christ to those who are otherwise “spiritual.”

The Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit and baptism when they receive Christ.

As Peter preaches and the people listen, something most startling happens in the room.

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Yes, the Spirit falls even upon the Gentiles!  Here it is!  Peter’s eyes are now fully opened as are the eyes of those who have accompanied them.  God’s great lesson was not merely that the Gentiles should not be despised as unclean.  No, God’s lesson was that the Gentiles, the entire world, could likewise enter the Kingdom of God through the cross and the resurrection of Christ.  Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life for all!

We can sense Peter’s stunned amazement!  As the Spirit falls and the Gentiles speak in tongues and worship, Peter speaks this to his Jewish-Christian friends:  “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  It is as if they are huddling up to confer and agree upon the inevitable implications of what they have just seen!

These too can be baptized!

These too can come home!

These too can be saved!

These too are our brothers and sisters!

These too are the Church!

Church family, we dare not, dare not miss this!  The Gospel is for all!  All may come!  What a tragedy when we allow racial or ethnic or socio-economic divisions to enter the Church of the risen Christ who laid down His life for all!

R. Kent Hughes has pointed to an episode in the life of Mahatma Gandhi that painfully illustrates how the Church throughout time has struggled to come to terms with the radical implications of the gospel.

            Mahatma Gandhi shares in his autobiography that in his student days in England he was deeply touched by reading the Gospels and seriously considered becoming a convert to Christianity, which seemed to offer a real solution to the caste system that divided the people of India.  One Sunday he attended church services and decided to ask the minister for enlightenment on salvation and other doctrines.  But when Gandhi entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go elsewhere to worship with his own people.  He left and never came back.  “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu!”[iii]

Ah!  How badly we want to say to Gandhi, were it not too late, and to that church:  “There is no caste system in Christianity!  The old divisions are no more!  Christ is making a people from all the peoples of the earth!  All may come!  All m



[i] Clinton E. Arnold, “Acts.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol.2. Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.311.

[ii] John B. Polhill, Acts. The New American Commentary. Vol.26. David Dockery, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), p.260.

[iii] R. Kent Hughes, Acts. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), p.149.

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