The church is expanding, and the gospel is spreading despite persecution. The gospel is crossing generational, geographic, and cultural barriers. Peter is staying in Joppa where God will soon send him to share the gospel to Gentiles. Meanwhile, Cornelius is a Roman centurion who is stationed at Caesarea. He is what the Jews call a "God-fearer." He believes in God, prays regularly and tries to live a good and generous life. One day while he is praying, an angel appears to him. Seized with terror, Cornelius asks the reason for the visit and the angel tells him that his prayers and generosity ascended as a memorial to God. The angel instructs him to send for Peter who is in Joppa staying with a tanner named Simon. Tanners were often outcasts because their vocation required contact with the carcasses of dead animals, making them ceremonially unclean. The angel leaves and Cornelius obeys, sending a devout soldier as well as two servants.
The following day, as Cornelius' men approach the city, Peter goes up to the roof to pray. Peter gets hungry on the roof, and while his meal is being prepared, he falls into a trance and sees a great sheet descending filled with unclean animals that the Jewish law forbid him to eat. While he looks at this incredible sight, a voice says, "Kill and eat." Peter declares that he has not eaten things unclean. The vision is repeated two more times and each time with the same message, namely don't call these animals unclean because the Lord has made them clean. As Peter thinks the vision over, the messengers from Cornelius arrive at the gate. The Holy Spirit tells Peter that three men are looking for him and that he is to go with them immediately. Peter was raised not to mix with Gentiles because they were unclean and he was not to enter their homes or even share a meal with a Gentile. However, Peter goes with the messengers to the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, and it is there that he crosses into the Gentile world.
I Too Am A Man
Luke shows us how God directs both Cornelius and Peter as the Gospel breaks down one of the greatest barriers of the day. The prejudice and racial hatred between Jews and Gentiles was intense. Peter is led by the Holy Spirit to the understanding that God is for everyone, and when Peter arrives, Cornelius falls down to worship, but Peter lifts him up. He should not receive worship for he too was a man. Peter speaks to Cornelius as well as his family and friends. Peter explains what God is showing him concerning the gospel– it is for everyone. Peter speaks to them about Jesus, his life, and death. He explains that God raised Jesus and made him judge of all and that it is through Jesus that people can be forgiven their sins. This is a great relief to Cornelius, who has worked very hard to get right with God. As Peter speaks, the Holy Spirit comes upon everyone listening, and the place was filled with the sound of Gentiles praising God in strange tongues similar to the way that the apostles had done on the Day of Pentecost. Peter does not hesitate, and he baptizes them all.
Things To Consider:
- Why is the ministry to the Gentiles so important for the early church?
- What other person in scripture was sent to Gentiles but fled to Joppa?
- Why is it significant that Cornelius was sent to Peter?
- Why was this so difficult for Peter to understand?
- Do people receive worship? How?
- What were the components of the gospel that Peter shared?
- Why did Peter direct them to baptism after the Holy Spirit came upon them?
- How does this inform our baptism practices?