There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.(Acts 10:1-6)
At the center of the book of Acts are three conversion stories, the Ethiopian eunich, Saul of Tarsus, and that of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion. Each corresponds to one of Noah’s three sons, out of whom every family on earth has come. The Ethiopian would be a son of Ham, Cornelius of Japheth, and finally Saul of Shem. God so loves the world.
There are many valuable truths in the story of the conversion of Cornelius, that I wold love to glean from for this study. But first an overview of the story itself…
Cornelius was as good a man as you could find, in that time or in any. He was one of those gentiles who was attracted to the God of Israel. Though he was an officer in an occupying gentile army, he could see that Israel’s religion was the true religion, and thus became a worshipper, though not a Jewish convert.
The technical term for those gentiles who could see that what Israel had was right, was “God Fearer”. Cornelius kept regular hours of prayer, fastings, he gave generous alms for the poor of Israel, and led his household to do also. As far as he was able, He loved God and sought him, but He was not yet saved.
This is the first point of interest I wish to highlight in this story. Cornelius needed to be saved, in spite of all of his good and meritorious deeds. An Angel was dispatched to him during a set time of prayer and fasting with the message that his prayers and Almsgiving had ascended as a memorial to God.
This did not indicate that God considered him righteous in His sight, for we know from Romans, that by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight… rather it means that God saw that this man was truly seeking Him, God noticed and regarded this man’s search for salvation.
But Cornelius would need to receive the Word of God’s gospel in order to be saved. There can be no salvation without the Word of the cross of Jesus, His resurrection,and the remission of sin. This is what the story of Cornelius tells us.
What did the Angel say to Him? It comes out progressively in Acts 10 and 11, because the story of the Angelic visitation is told several times with more detail each time.
The narrator of Acts tells us that the Angel assured Him that God had noticed his sincere seeking, so He told him where to find the apostle Peter, and to send for Him.
vs 30-32 of Acts 10 adds the details that the angel came to him during a period of fastings and prayers, and that Peter shall speak to thee.
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea-side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. (Acts 10:30-32)
But when Peter related the whole story back to the elders in Jerusalem, he added the detail that Cornelius was told that Peter would tell him “Words whereby he and his household would be saved”
Two more things stand out in this narrative;
* Men are saved by hearing words In spite of Cornelius’ alms and prayers, he still needed to hear the gospel to be saved. God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. Romans 10 tells us “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”.
Was it not by listening to the word of the serpent that man was lost? It has pleased God that the way for men to be saved, is by listening to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the hearing their goes beyond listening, it involves the believing reception of the good report.
* Finally- Angels don’t preach the gospel, we do-Angels are messengers of God, but the angel didn’t preach to Cornelius. God’s angel made arrangements to set up the meeting between Cornelius and Peter. That means that God is calling you and I to deliver the “Words whereby men shall be saved”, It is in the simplicity of preaching, sharing, and teaching the gospel to the unsaved, that men’s hearts will open up to God. Truly, the Gospel itself is “The power of God unto Salvation”.