“Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” (Acts 10:22 ESV)
Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman army—the occupying army—in Caesarea, the Hawaii of Israel. While he was “well spoken of by the whole nation of Israel” (Acts 10:22), he was also a Gentile. To this point in history, the gospel has only gone to Jews and those of Jewish descent (Samaritans). No one without Jewish descent has become a Christian and it’s not on anyone’s radar that God might want to save the Gentiles too. Cornelius was completely the wrong kind of man for God to love, much less save. Then something happens.
God gave the Apostle Peter a vision that helped Peter consider that maybe God loves more people than the Jews. Long story short: by God’s direction Cornelius summons Peter to come to Caesarea. Peter comes and enters Cornelius’ house. There he finds a house filled with people who are prepared to hear his message. Peter is bewildered but realizes that God is not a racist or simply a non-racist, but a lover of all people. So he tells them about Jesus.
If Cornelius COULD be saved, so can you
Peter had God’s love in a racial box. You had to be Jewish to be saved. I don’t think Peter thought God was a racist, but there is a big difference between being a non-racist and loving everyone. Think of God’s love. Certainly God loves us, right? Even people like me? God’s on our side. God prefers us. Then God rocks Peter’s world by saving an Italian, Roman, Gentile Soldier. In this he says, I love Italians too. I love Romans too. I love those you might regard as your enemies too. I want to save them too. God doesn’t have boxes.
Think of all the questions God WON’T ask at the final judgment: Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What side of town did you live on? What’s your skin color? What is your ethnicity? What did you do for a living? Did you make much money? Were you well known? Were you influential? Did people admire you?
Those things don’t matter to God. There are no cultural, racial, economic, or social restrictions to God’s love or salvation. He’s not a respecter of persons. My mentor’s dad was a pastor in Indianapolis many years ago. He told me the story that one Sunday, possibly on Easter, before the service an usher came rushing up to him and said, “Pastor, the Governor of Indiana is here and the church is full. What should we do?” His response was classic. He said, “Tell him to find a seat like everyone else.”
In God’s eyes, there are no governors, no celebrities, no special people. There are just sinners and the only celebrity in the church is Jesus. So if God chooses to save a Gentile member of the invading army of the land he promised to Abraham, then God can and will save you the same way he did Cornelius, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
If Cornelius NEEDED to be saved, so do we
“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (Acts 10:1-2)
You may say, but wait, he was a religious and good man; he was a good candidate to be saved. Actually, it’s very hard for Cornelius types to be saved. They are good people after all. They are better than most. They are moral. Kind. They are show-up-for-Easter-service type people. Is it possible to be a Cornelius and not be saved? What does this tell us if not that Cornelius type people still need the gospel? We are not saved by works but by Jesus and faith in him.
I’m such a good person, I don’t need Jesus. Are you a better person than Cornelius? Do your enemies admire your goodness? Are you known throughout the country for your piety and spirituality? Cornelius doesn’t stop Peter and say, “Well, do you realize who I am?” You may be a good person, but you’re not better than Cornelius.
Yet Cornelius realized that as good as he was, he wasn’t good enough. Cornelius needed a Savior. When it gets to the bottom line about Easter, isn’t that really it? Peter explains the action step: “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43) This is the gospel for everyone and a salvation for all who will believe.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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